When Barry Levenson left his position as assistant attorney general of Wisconsin in the early ’90s to open a museum dedicated to mustard, his family thought he was one jar short, so to speak.
“They thought I was totally nuts,” he said. “I jumped out of the airplane without a parachute. I landed in a vat of mustard.”
There was no going back, and Levenson has been immersed in “American’s favorite condiment” ever since. He still operates the National Mustard Museum in downtown Middleton, a quirky shrine to the spicy condiment which has entertained scores of visitors and been featured in numerous publications.
The free museum features more than 6,000 bottles and jars of mustard, including varieties from 70 countries and all 50 states. The museum has these mustards on display, along with art and information about this famous condiment, and a gift shop operates alongside the museum selling a wide variety of mustards, culinary items and gifts.
“The gift shop sells more different mustards than any shop in the world,” Levenson said. “I’ve been to France, and mustard shops there, and have seen nothing that compares to what we have here.”
Patti Bridges, who owns the shop, said her store’s offerings make popular gifts.
“People come months in advance to get things shipped right before Christmas,” she said.
It also has copies of the “Art of Mustard,” a new book Levenson recently published. It’s filled with images that showcase the beauty of vintage mustard packaging.
“I think there is art to mustard,” Levenson said.
Levenson said he has developed many close friendships with people who were once just customers.
And while he is nearly 72, he has no intention of stepping down as the curator and cheerleader of this quirky place.
“I tell people mustard keeps me young,” he said. “It’s the secret ingredient.”
About the National Mustard Museum
7477 Hubbard Ave, Middleton, WI 53562
Open daily: 10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Admission is free; donations accepted. The gift shop and museum are open to visitors but curbside pickup and online ordering are also available.