Saturday, November 2, 2013

Day 174 - Visiting the National Mustard Museum

I have never been to the National Mustard Museum. As one of the most prominent tourist attractions in the Madison suburb of Middleton, many people were surprised to learn a visit to the Mustard Museum was on my “I have never...” list. The reality is a trip to the Mustard Museum had never been high on my list of priorities for a simple reason; I don’t like mustard. Now, to be clear my distaste for the spicy yellow stuff is not the result of a once-during-my-childhood experience that has stuck with me into adulthood. In fact, I have revisited mustard every year or so and I have remained open to trying a multitude of different mustards over the years, but the results have always remained the same. At no point, with no flavor or type of mustard, has the condiment appealed to my tastes. As far as I was concerned, it was simply a food that would never find a place in my diet.

That stated, I knew a trip to the Mustard Museum would provide a unique experience with a quirky local attraction, which set into motion my plans to visit the place at some point during my “I have never...” journey. Although I didn’t intend to visit the Mustard Museum this early in my “I have never...” year changed my plans in a sudden way. After realizing a huge oversight on my part meant I would no longer be able to attend my first ever Steampunk event this evening, I went into a brief panic early this afternoon to find an alternative “I have never...” event for the day. After rifling through a limited list of possibilities, I eventually narrowed it down to a few hands-on events I could tackle with Rachael’s help and a trip to the Mustard Museum. After some thought, I determined I needed to make the most of a Saturday by doing something more than learning a craft at home, which spurred me to action and placed Rachael and I on a car trip to Middleton within minutes of making my choice for today’s “I have never...” event.

After a short trip to Madison’s Westside, Rachael and I found ourselves pulling into the quaint downtown area of Middleton, where we found the Mustard Museum nestled in the corner of a sleepy city block. Upon entering the building, we were immediately taken back by the walls and racks of mustards that lined the walkways of the long, narrow building. A bit uncertain as to where we should start, Rachael and I stood near the entrance of the museum for a few moments to determine the best approach to take in what the building had to offer.

Eventually, we determined it would be best to start with a review of some nearby displays containing hundreds of bottles of mustard. In turn, we worked our way toward the center of the building, where our path was intercepted by a Mustard Museum employee. The employee was quick to explain the layout of the building, which held a tasting station, concessions, and a lower level museum of mustards from around the world. She informed us nearly all of the hundreds mustards on display in the upper level were available to sample, which astonished me outright. In response to her explanation, I took a look around baffled at how the museum maintained a system that permitted sampling of so many mustards. Trying to absorb the scope of the operation, I thanked the woman for her help and continued looking at the room around me. Although I knew the rows and rows of jars surrounding me contained a condiment that didn’t appeal to me, I knew if I was ever going to find a mustard I liked, the Mustard Museum sampling policy was likely the best way I could find it. I was going to have to put up with a lot of cringe-worthy tastes to get there, but I was ready to make the most of my Mustard Museum experience.

We can try ANYTHING in the building?

As I sifted through the endless variety of mustard types around us, I asked Rachael where she wanted to begin. After a brief discussion, we agreed heading down to the museum first would give us some time to pinpoint the categories of mustard we wanted to try during our experience. In turn, we walked through the remaining half of the building and headed toward the museum stairs. As we walked, Rachael happily sampled small dishes of mustard scattered about the room. While her delight was obvious, I happily stood idly by after making an attempt to force down one of the available offerings. After that first taste, I knew the forthcoming tasting was likely going to leave my taste buds battered, but at least I had a little opportunity to delay that outcome.

The main wall of the museum

After a few more samples, Rachael gave me the go ahead to make our way down to the museum at the center of the day’s experience. Walking down a concrete set of stairs, we encountered an open space lined with displays and cases of mustard organized by location. To our right a brief history of mustard and displays on the mustard making process provided a backdrop for the remaining aspects of the room around us. In an effort to take in the whole of the experience, Rachael and I moved from display to display around the room, taking in the highly different mustard types and containers from locations across the globe. As we walked, I took note of the historic transition of the mustard containers from country to country, which all maintained the same general transition from aged metal and glass vessels to modern plastic and tin containers improving the efficiency of mustard use. The breadth of the Mustard Museum’s historic and international mustards was astounding, which helped better tell the history of the condiment. Without question, the mustard museum was as unique and interesting as I expected it to be, which is only possible as a result of the museum’s commitment to preserving the history of a common yellowsauce.

The primer


Rachael and I took some time to read about the mustard making process before we headed back upstairs and honed in on the mustards we wanted to try and the nearby mustard tasting bar. Figuring my affinity for spice might help me find a mustard that appealed to me, I focused on the “spicy” section of the offerings while Rachael picked out a few selections of mustard with highly varied flavors. With that, we approached the tasting bar and worked through our first round of samples. In the spirit to try new things, Rachael and I both tried samples of the mustards we selected individually. At first, we worked through the spicy mustards I had selected, which largely focused on habanero and Ghost Pepper spices to give the mustard a kick. While most of them left Rachael a little misty eyed, I was surprised to find the mustards weren’t all that bad. I could still taste some of the mustard seed buried in the spice, but for the most part it didn’t overwhelm. Although I knew the mustards would still never be a go-to condiment, the fact that I found some mustards that didn’t immediately make me stick my tongue out gave me hope I was on the right track.


Following the samples of the spicy mustards, we moved on to Rachael’s choices. The mix included a wasabi horseradish mustard, a garlic horseradish mustard, and a truffle mustard. While Rachael enjoyed each of them to nearly the same degree, I struggled with the overwhelming mustard taste that came with each to the point I handed off the remaining portion of each after one dip of a pretzel stick. After a few comments about my aversion to the taste, the tasting bar employee recommended I try some of the fruit mustards if the basic flavor profile of the condiment was usually too much to handle. Once finished with our second round of samples, Rachael and I took the employee’s advice and singled out some fruit mustards to try. Luckily, this effort proved successful, exposing me to two mustards I actually liked. Particularly, a blueberry mustard we tried in our final mix was absolutely delicious. Although hints of mustard’s trademark flavor ran through the profile of the mustard, the overall taste was driven by the blueberries. As a result, the pretzel stick I was using to sample the mustard ended up tasting like a sort of blueberry pastry in my mouth. It was so delicious that Rachael and I ended up deciding to buy a bottle on the spot. Against all odds, I had found a mustard I liked, and take me at my word when I say that is no small feat.

...not so much...

...and about 50/50

After our tasting of the fruit mustards, Rachael and I also took some time to sample one more mustard, a beer, bacon, and cheddar mustard several employees waxed on about during our fruit sampling. Rachael quickly determined it was the best mustard she had ever tasted, and while I agreed it was somewhat tasty, I still struggled with the husk of mustard seed flavor that enveloped the underlying flavors. With that, Rachael and I wrapped up our tasting experiences, picked up a few gifts for some people, and brought our first experience at the Mustard Museum to a close. While I went into today’s event expecting a unique experience, I can honestly say my visit to the Mustard Museum today was more than I expected. The underlying concept is, by itself, a quirky focus for an establishment, but the experience provided by the Mustard Museum is interesting, informative, and engaging. Any experience that can help me find a mustard I actually enjoy should speak for itself, but in case it is unclear in my writing, I’m glad Rachael and I made the trip to the Mustard Museum today. It ended up being a fun an entertaining way to spend an afternoon, and the experience made it hard not to walk away feeling good.

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