National Mustard Museum
Yes, Virginia – not only is there a National Mustard Museum just outside Madison, Wisconsin … they’re gearing up for their 25th anniversary. The backstory behind the museum is almost as quirky as the exhibition itself.
According to Curator Barry Levenson, it all started due to insomnia. Back in 1986, Levenson was an Assistant Attorney General in Wisconsin. “I was a die-hard Red Sox fan. The Red Sox came so close to winning the World Series that year and when they lost, I was so depressed I couldn’t sleep,” said Levenson. “The next morning at 2am, I went to the supermarket and walked around. The mustard called to me … ‘If you collect us, they will come’. I needed a hobby. I bought around 15 jars that night.”
Six years later Levenson had so many jars on hand; mustard looky-loos would show up at his house to inquire about the collection. “At the time, it was in my basement. So I decided to open a museum dedicated to mustard,” said Levenson. “That was my mid-life crisis. We opened in 1992.”
Now tour buses come from all over the country to get their mustard on. “It is an actual museum, said Patti Levenson, who calls herself Mrs. Mustard. “It’s fun. We have historical mustard items, facts and plenty of things to look at. We’re trying to educate people on the tastiness and healthiness of mustard.”
Turns out Middleton, Wisconsin was the perfect venue for the mustard museum – thanks to the state’s large population who are proud of their German heritage. “Brown mustard was always our main condiment … on brats, sausages and burgers,” said Mrs. Mustard.
The museum boasts a gift shop where you can sample and/or purchase nearly 500 different brands of the yellow stuff … everything from Habanero Horseradish to a mustard blended with chocolate. (Editor note: It’s not half bad.) The goal of the museum? “We can convert the non-mustard lover,” said Mrs. Mustard. “You might be surprised. You can also try hundreds of other products – local jams, honeys, barbecue sauces and more. Lots of Wisconsin specialties.”
But … again … for the love … why mustard?
“I was in front of the mustards … when I had my calling. I could have been two aisles over in feminine hygiene products and that could have been my calling,” laughed Levenson. “The mustard called to me … spoke to me. It picked me – I didn’t pick it. So I said I’ll do it.”
When asked for a ballpark number – or ballpark-frank-covered-with-mustard number, Levenson commented the National Mustard Museum has seen over 750,000+ million visitors. “We have 6,000 people visit on National Mustard Day alone,” said Levenson. (Plan accordingly, people – it’s next August 5th.) For mustard purists, there are nearly 6,000 different jars of mustard on display – representing all 50 states and 70 different countries. For mustard historians, you can learn all there is to know in the museum’s “Mustard-piece Theatre”. And bonus? Admission is free to see the endless memorabilia and pop-culture poupon on display.
Forget fruit baskets for the holidays. Want a specialty-blend of mustard customized with your company’s logo – or Great Aunt Tilly’s face – on the jar? Just ask. Need a gift basket of mustards shipped to Guam? Done. But get those orders in sooner than later – as Christmas-time remains one of their busiest times of the year. And if you’re wondering – there’s one particular mustard that’s far and away their most popular. “Bertman Ball Park Mustard – served at Cleveland’s Progressive Field,” said Levenson. “It’s a taste of home for a lot of people and our top-seller on the internet.”
And what’s with Oprah’s latent fascination with mustard, you ask? “It’s a low-fat, low-cal condiment,” said Mrs. Mustard.
What more could a girl possibly ask for?
National Mustard Museum
7477 Hubbard Avenue, Middleton, WI 53562
Open 7 days a week: 10am-5pm