After a long, difficult year, things are starting to get back to normal at Middleton’s National Mustard Museum.
Well, as normal as they can get for a place dedicated to all things mustard, according to museum founder and curator Barry Levenson.
“Things lately have been terrific,” he said. “We’re seeing more and more visitors. I think people are finally coming out of the woodwork. They’re very upbeat.”
“A lot of people are visiting relatives here that they haven’t seen for a long time. So, what do people do who are in the Madison area when you’ve got relatives? You take them to the Mustard Museum.”
The nonprofit National Mustard Museum and separate gift shop occupy two floors (museum on the lower floor, gift shop on street level) in downtown Middleton at the corner of Hubbard Avenue and Parmenter Street.
Patti Bridges, who runs the gift shop, said they’ve returned to their regular hours (10 a.m. to 5 p.m., seven days a week) and recently reinstituted mustard tastings.
“It’s very exciting,” she said. “We really missed seeing all the people.”
Bridges encourages visitors to be patient with staff members as the crowds return. The mustard bar, a.k.a. mustard tasting station, has 30 top sellers and award-winning mustards to sample and each customer can try up to five. (Pro tip: Be sure to try the store’s best seller, the Slimm & Nunne Sweet & Nicely Hot Mustard.)
Visitors are encouraged to browse the shop, too, where they’ll find much more than mustard, including hot sauces, barbeque sauces, marinades, jam, chocolate sauce, and goofy gift items.
Another must-have from the shop? “The Art of Mustard,” a photographic collection of more than 600 of museum’s most interesting items, including tins, boxes, pots, jars and other memorabilia. Levenson worked on the book last year, photographing all the mustards himself and self-publishing right here in Middleton at AlphaGraphics.
If not comfortable venturing out, or wishing to order something to ship to a family member, shop online and get delivery or curbside pickup.
Bridges said the museum and shop have seen a lot of community support over the last year from shoppers (mail-order sales in November and December of last year were double what they usually are) as well local organizations like Middleton Tourism, the Chamber of Commerce and the Downtown Middleton Business Association.
“There was a huge momentum going in downtown Middleton before the pandemic happened and I’m eager to see that get back to normal,” Bridges said.
Downstairs, things have returned to normal, too, with the museum’s interactive exhibits opening back up, including movies at the “Mustardpiece Theater.”
“It’s important to tell people all about mustard and its history and its benefits and all kinds of stuff like that, but it’s gotta be a fun thing because people are looking for fun right now,” Levenson said.
Another good sign: National Mustard Day is set for Aug. 7 and it will be an in-person event this year. The annual festival — which takes place the first Saturday in August — is a fun, family-friendly event that fills the streets of downtown Middleton with games, kids’ activities, vendors and more. Last year was the first time the National Mustard Museum hadn’t held the event in person since the museum (then based in Mount Horeb) started hosting in 1991, but they did host a virtual event.
Levenson encourages people to come visit the shop and the museum, whether they live in Middleton or come from out of town.
“Visit the Mustard Museum because it sounds kooky — and it is — but it’s a fun place to go,” he said. “We’re not above having fun. In fact, that’s really what we’re all about.”
The National Mustard Museum
7477 Hubbard Ave., Middleton, WI
Open daily: 10 a.m.-5 p.m.
800-438-6878 / 608-831-2222