Thursday, January 27, 2011

Use of safety restraints is recommended: A visit to the Mustard Museum

"If ye have faith as a grain of mustard seed, ye shall say unto this mountain, Remove hence to yonder place; and it shall remove; and nothing shall be impossible unto you."  --Jesus

There is nothing finer than a museum about food. And there is no finer food than a great condiment. And there is no finer condiment than mustard. By that logic, the Mustard Museum may be the finest museum in existence.

Founded in 1986 in the quaint Wisconsin town of Mt. Horeb, the Mustard Museum has grown into the world's foremost condiment museum. Although now headquartered in Middleton, WI, and known as the National Mustard Museum (a bit pretentious if you ask me), I'd like to take my readers back to a simpler time. A time when a man wouldn't be caught dead with foie gras or bleu cheese on his hot dog. A time when that spicy golden ambrosia practically flowed through the sleepy streets Mt. Horeb. A time known as 2008.

To the casual condiment consumer, it may not seem like there's much to mustard. It's yellow. It's tangy. It comes in a squirt bottle. But to the trained condimentologist, there is so much more.

To start with, there are thousands of varieties of mustard. Do you like it spicy, or do you prefer mild? Would you like some horseradish in your mustard? How about beer? Do you like it chunky? Or smooth? Add to that the fact that mustard is manufactured in every country in the world and every state in this great nation, and you've got the makings of a serious condiment collection. The Mustard Museum currently houses over 5,600 mustards and a whole slew of mustard memorabilia.

Despite its unassuming demeanor, mustard has changed history. Several times. Just look at all the ways mustard has been used in medical practice. Mmmm... mustard ointment. And let's not forget the important role mustard gas played in World War I. (Okay, so it's not technically mustard, but who's counting?) Not only that, but museum founder and former Assistant Attorney General Barry Levenson once argued a case before the US Supreme Court with a jar of mustard in his pocket. Did it help him win the case? Perhaps it did.

Of course, America's best-known mustard is French's. And like every great capitalist endeavor, French's has had its share of mascots. Seriously, is there any greater mascot in corporate history than "Hot Dan"? The answer is "No."

Many people know mustard only as the golden liquid that adds pizzazz to otherwise lifeless dishes. But, much like a non-Newtonian fluid, mustard can also be a solid. Mustard seed (ground and whole) is a staple in cuisines around the world. And the containers used to package this spice are as varied and attractive as the people who use them.

Not unlike drug culture, condiment culture has acquired its own unique paraphernalia as well. Take this collection of antique mustard pots, for example. It was generously donated to the museum by "the family of James Arthur Gibbons, easily the second-most passionate collector of mustard pots ever known."

While some visitors will be enthralled by the history and lore of mustardry, let's be honest: folks come here see some gosh dang mustard! And the Mustard Museum delivers.This, my friends, is the Great Wall of Mustard. Behold.

After spending hours drooling over the thousands of mustards on display, one works up quite an appetite. That's where the gift shop comes in. With free mustard tastings of dozens of varieties, you don't even need to pack a lunch. And feel free to purchase a jar or three on your way out to, ahem, spread the love.

When you plan your visit, make sure you pay heed to the warning posted at the museum's entrance: 
"You should not enter this museum if you are easily nauseated by bad jokes, wicked puns, and silly stories. The management takes no responsibility for much of anything that goes on here. Parents should count their children both before entering and upon leaving the museum. Use of safety restraints is recommended for those persons who are not used to having a good time in this town. --The Curator"

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