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As a hot dog lover I made a pilgrimage to the National Mustard Museum in Middleton, Wisconsin. Curator Barry Levinson shows up for work every day proudly wearing his Boston Red Sox hat. It’s fitting that Barry wears a Red Sox cap to work since it was one of the team’s historic collapses that inspired the idea for the mustard museum.
After they lost to the Mets in a monumental collapse in the 1986 World Series, he took a long walk in the chill of an autumn night. As he tells it, “I was walking around a supermarket while pondering the meaning of life when I came across the mustard aisle.” In a scene right out of the movie Field of Dreams he heard a voice saying, “If you collect us, they will come.” And so the National Mustard Museum was born, which appropriately enough has mustard colored walls.
Barry didn’t seem so eager to relive that night but loved talking about mustard. He has on display more than 5,000 mustards from all 50 states and more than 60 countries. Mustard really is a universal condiment. Many of these mustards are for sale and there is even a tasting area to try them out first. The mustard bar reminded me of a wine tasting room at a Napa Valley vineyard. Each mustard was slathered on a cracker as I compared the nuances of each one. Up until now mustard for me was divided into two categories: yellow and brown.
But Levinson’s collection goes way beyond those two simple blends. I tried some flavored with lime, blueberries and wasabi and had a few shipped out as gifts. In the end, the National Mustard Museum should more appropriately be called the National Mustard Gift Shop since there are so many types to purchase, but I don’t think that would attract the crowds as much. I know if the place didn’t have “Museum” added to the name I wouldn’t have made the detour to visit it.
It got me thinking though. Barry was clever enough to take his obsession and turn it into a museum. Even though admission is free, he is making a good living on the sale of mustard and mustard related products. Which of your hobbies could you turn into a shop, add “museum” to the name and sit back as the carloads of fans started eagerly arriving? A relative of mine has a collection of over 500 cookie jars. I keep trying to convince her to create a museum, bake some cookies for sale and ride into retirement on the coattails of her collection. Who knew that being a pack rat could be so lucrative?
Go if you’re interested in: Condiments, food history, Boston Red Sox
What makes it special? You’ll never see more mustards in a jar than here.
If you like this you’ll also like: SPAM Museum, Austin, Minnesota
Tips: Bring an appetite for the free tastings and plan on eating some local weiners for dinner.
Website: National Mustard Museum