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Spreading joy one jar at a time at the National Mustard Museum

Located just outside of Madison, Wisconsin, the wacky museum boasts the world's largest collection of the yellow condiment.
Posted at 8:39 PM, Aug 04, 2023

At the National Mustard Museum in Middleton, Wisconsin, there's only love for one condiment. 

And if you dare say the "K-word," founder and curator Barry Levenson will loudly toot his "honk of shame." 

The 74-year-old Levenson started collecting mustards in 1986 after his beloved Red Sox lost the World Series. "I was so depressed I couldn't sleep. So I went to an all-night supermarket and when I passed the mustards, I heard a voice that said, 'if you collect us, they will come.' I did. They have," he said. 

At the time, Levenson was an assistant attorney general for the state of Wisconsin. A few years later, he improbably quit his job to open a museum to mustard. Today the free nonprofit attracts 30,000 to 35,000 visitors each year. His collection has grown to 6,600 mustards from all 50 states and over 80 countries. 

From the mustard vending machine to the mustard-piece theater, the museum is delightfully wacky, historical and educational.

It also doubles as a higher-ed institution called Poupon U, with fight songs that Levenson made up to the tunes of real college songs.

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On a recent afternoon, Levenson delighted a visiting couple with these lyrics:

"Bratwurst and hot dogs; hamburgers too. 

All with the mustard spread on thick. 

We never eat ketchup because it makes you sick. 

We slather it on our bagels and fries. 

Licorice and corn flakes; blueberry pies. 

Even with our Irish stew. 

Because we're true to Poupon U."

Of course, there's a tasting bar where you can sample some 60 mustards, including recent winners of the worldwide mustard competition held at the museum.

Also held annually right outside the museum is a huge yellow party for National Mustard Day, which falls on the first Saturday of August. Levenson wouldn't tell Scripps News which mustard he prefers because "that's like who's your favorite child."

But one thing is clear: his passion for mustard and spreading joy knows no bounds.

"I think people more laughs and more lighthearted things to fill up their lives," he said.