Mean Mr. Mustard

When I make a sandwich, I use mustard. Because I actually want to taste it, I don’t just put a little dab or a smear on the bread—I spread it on liberally. Problematically, I live on the west coast of the United States, where mustard is regarded not as the crushed seeds of a weedy, prolific, brassica mixed with vinegar and spices, but as a rare and treasured condiment to be dabbed reverentially on warm lobes of foie gras, or the mediocre charcuterie of some second-rate kitchen manager. Go to the grocery store here and they got 40 or 50 different four-to-six ounce jars of the golden preserve, blended with all manner of exquisite flavorings, like beer! or honey! or chilies! At times I just stand in slack-jawed awe of the alchemical geniuses behind these gilded alloys.

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The ingredient saga of Beaver Brand  Honey Mustard. Like commercial ice cream, it has maybe 15 more ingredients than it should. Flour? What thinking person making mustard thinks, “you know what this needs? Some fucking white flour, that’s what.” You can tell it was likely a food scientist because of the xanthan gum. Food scientists love that shit.

Despite the incredible creativity on display, I cannot figure how combining lowly mustard seeds with a tiny amount of some other cheap commodity justifies over a dollar an ounce. Where I’m from, we buy mustard by the pound, it costs pennies per ounce, and it’s strong. Oh, Oregon has Beaver brand! The working class mustard is featured in the six-pack condiment carriers that bedeck the picnic tables of every public house in the state. It’s so strong! So spicy! It totally sucks. It tastes like sarin gas bubbled through sulfuric acid, thickened with tapioca, and sweetened with HFCS. It has the ingredient list of a bottle of shampoo.

I tried solving this dilemma by making my own mustard, and that worked out okay. But while making mustard is technically pretty simple, crush seeds and mix with liquid and seasoning, it’s impractically labor intensive to do with regular home equipment. Also, the cuisinart and the mortar and pestle are never gonna turn out as nice a mustard as a mill.

I’d been tasting my mustard against the mustards of Portland, and it held up pretty well. As a model, I used the faint memory of the Plochman’s whole grain mustard that they sold in ceramic crocks for a while. I don’t know if I reached that standard, because I can’t find that mustard anymore. I know that it doesn’t hold up well against Edmond Fallot mustard. Fallot is another dollar-an-ounce mustard, but at least it doesn’t suck.

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I highly recommend the mustard on the left. The one on the right is more than serviceable, but is hardly exemplary.

Fortunately I make it back to the Midwest on occasion, where people know a thing or two about mustard.  Last time I went, I brought back two pounds of mustard from the Woeber Mustard company of Springfield, Ohio. Their Sandwich Pal Hot and Spicy Mustard is not excruciatingly hot, but that’s not how I like my mustard. It is sharp and pungent. It enlivens the most desultory of cold cuts or mournful cheese sandwiches. It sings on a sausage! It costs $5 for a pound, at the fancy store. On their site it goes for a mere $2.10+shipping (which is significant if you’re only buying a few bottles).

“What’s the catch?” No catch, my hip coast brethren. It’s not organic. It comes in a plastic squeeze bottle. The ingredients are few and simple: Vinegar, #1 mustard seed, salt, sugar, horseradish and spices. Oh, here’s the catch: you can’t find it here.

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