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Relishing Wisconsin's Museum of Mustard

The yellow condiment helped a Red Sox fan out of depression. It's great on a hot dog too.

September 03, 2006|Patrick T. Reardon | Chicago Tribune

MOUNT HOREB, Wis. — Saw the sign while barreling along U.S. Highway 18. "Mustard Museum." Had to turn off and see.

Mustard Museum?

Color scheme? Yellow, of course. Even down to the highly buffed blond wood floor of the former hardware store. Officially, the Mount Horeb Mustard Museum.

Entered the commercial half of the operation, where 450 to 500 types of mustard were on sale along with T-shirts, caps, toilet seats, surgical scrubs, playing cards, sweatshirts and diplomas for Poupon U.

Turned left and found the portion of the storefront set aside for the museum -- 4,678 mustards in the collection as well as hundreds of antique mustard pots, mustard ads ("It Burns Out Pain"), mustard plasters (long a medicinal remedy), mustard literature (Shakespeare: "What say you to a piece of beef and mustard?"), a human-size mustard-bottle suit and other mustard memorabilia.

Met Barry Levenson, former assistant attorney general for the state of Wisconsin who left law in 1991 to turn his private collection of mustards into this museum. Expert in food law. Met his wife, Patti, at a mustard-tasting.

Told me he got into mustard-collecting as a way to break through his depression over the Boston Red Sox's loss in the 1986 World Series.

Said, "I want people to appreciate mustard."

Said, "I wanted to create something that was an escape from all the negative things people have to put up with in life."

Said the museum gets 30,000 to 40,000 visitors a year -- 3,000 of them on the first Saturday in August, National Mustard Day.

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