Unique United States Museums: The National Mustard Museum

By Carla Charter

MIDDLETON, WI . – Devout Red Sox fans will acknowledge that their favorite team can drive them to a range of emotions including excitement, exasperation and pride.  Apparently, everyone’s favorite Fenway team also led to the foundation of the National Mustard Museum.

“In 1986 I was working in law as an Assistant Attorney General for Wisconsin.  It was 1986 and the Red Sox were in the World Series. This was the year there was a heart break loss for Sox in the Series. I could not sleep after the loss. I was wondering how I could stop thinking about the Red Sox and thought maybe I need a hobby. I decided to go for a walk one night in October and ended up at an all-night supermarket.  I found myself in the condiment aisle and went by the catsup, the mayonnaise and then I saw the mustard.  I thought ‘collect us and they will come,’ and I bought a dozen mustards. I always liked mustard but never became obsessed with it until the Red Sox loss came along, ” said Barry Levenson, founder and curator of the National Mustard Museum.

Levenson felt another pull toward his mustard collection the next year.  “In April 20, 1987 I was arguing a cast at the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. I was staying in a large hotel. There was a jar of unopened mustard on the room service tray which would be discarded so I put it in my pocket and took it with me. I argued the case with the jar of mustard in my pocket.  I won the case 5 to 4, I am sure it was because of the mustard in my pocket,” Levenson joked.

Levenson opened the National Mustard Museum opened in April of 1992 and people have been coming ever since, now approximately 35,000 visitors a year. At the museum there are 6,100 types of unopened mustards in the collection. “Mustards in the collection never get opened,” he said. There are also different types of mustard seeds on display.

There is also mustard ephemera including old mustard tins, old mustard pots, 500 mustard containers which once contained powdered musters or mustard seeds and 800 antique mustard pots used to serve mustard at fine tables. There is mustard artwork and mustard videos on display. as well.  If all that mustard viewing has made visitors crave the yellow condiment, they have the opportunity to taste a variety of mustards from around the world too.

At the museum there are displays on the history of mustard including a display about the city of Dijon, “I have been to Dijon in France. It is a lovely city, the size of Worcester, Massachusetts. Dijon mustard was first created in the 1300’s. There is currently no Dijon mustard being made within the city limits of Dijon,” Levenson said.

The museum holds a Mustard Festival on the first Saturday in August, National Mustard Day. The festival includes foods including hot dogs, bratwurst and mustard sampling, games such as mustard ring toss and mustard bowling, as well as live music.  More information on the National Mustard Museum can be found at www.mustardmuseum.com