“Oh yes, mustard! That'll do … Mustard? Don't let's be silly. Now lemon, that's different.” ~ Mad Hatter, Alice in Wonderland
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My husband has been traveling quite a bit as of late
Tonight I surveyed the sink and realized every dish accounted for is my own or something I made for the pets. Smoothie blender on the drying rack, straggler odds and ends on the kitchen counter from this weekend's Spaghetti Saturday .. waiting to be tucked away
I realize I can spend the week not cooking much .. tuna melt for dinner, an extra fluffy omelet. Red pepper soup, with a sprinkling of blue cheese, of course. But then I make my way to the bedroom where the puppies have found their spots, and see only one pillowcase on the bed, also waiting for me and me alone
I send him a good night text, an extra emoji for sentiment. Appreciative of someone who, on more than one occasion over the past couple of months, has opened the refrigerator to find only
his wife's mustard experiments
— — —
Listen, I don't claim to be an expert on tastings
The last one we were invited to involved friends with wine and came complete with grilled pizza, strawberries, and chocolate (These things I know) Not to mention intense conversations about mouthfeel, wine legs, tannins, notes of tobacco and freshly cut grass(?) (All foreign languages)
But a culinary experiment? As in a bag of seeds turned tasty condiment? That's way too good to resist
We truly know the best group of people and hardly need an excuse to get together. Who knew so many love mustard too and were intrigued by the prospect of making their own? Plus, everybody loves trying new things. And really, who doesn't love a party?
There is no recipe, of course. But I do have a few tips and tricks .. lessons we've learned along the way
A key to success is the diversity of mustards you've chosen (or, in our case, made from scratch)
If purchasing, I'd pick out one or two that are common, a few exotic varieties, and a range of flavors in between. The idea being to nudge everyone out of their condiment comfort zones with different hues, heat levels, textures, and tastes.
You could also do a little research as well as pre-tasting. For example, I knew ahead of time that my family loves mustards with undertones of Guinness and horseradish. On the other hand, lots of friends have sweet-tooths and so I also chose a few with hints of honey. It's nice to have a little something for everyone
Quite honestly, you don't have to go crazy on the amount. I was surprised by how a little mustard .. went a very long way
To give you an idea .. we had 25 people at our tasting. Somewhere between a half to a cup of each kind of mustard (enough to fill a ramekin or small bowl). Twelve mustards in total, which was definitely on the high side. You'll want guests to experience a lot of tastes, but not so many that they're palates are fatigued
To label or not to label?
This is the question
We originally labeled our mustards with only a number, because we didn't want to bias anyone. Although I quickly wished I'd have done it differently
As people started to taste, I realized it would nice for everyone to know what they're eating. For example, some wanted to avoid alcohol and others didn't like things spicy. Therefore, next time I'll include a placard beside each, listing the mustard's name, main ingredients, and a few fun facts or even funny mustard jokes
Wander and Mingle or Togetherness
We debated. Should we stagger and space the mustards in a few different rooms to encourage guests to wander about and mingle? Or, situate them in one spot, knowing full well that this would be the gathering spot?
My first thought was to stagger them, but because the house was already filled with tables and chairs for dinner, we settled on a long table in the living room. It worked really well and it was fun to hear everybody comparing notes:
“This one's too hot. This one's too sweet. This one's just right!”
Dip it Good
Mustard is definitely the star, but you'll want to think about ideas of things for dipping. Do you have a little something for everyone? Here's our formula if you're in need of a place to start:
(** Note, cut everything into small pieces, with lots of toothpicks for dipping)
Meat – We served baked ham, although next time I'm going to splurge and make Joe Beef's Peameal Bacon. I'd also think about hot dogs or bratwurst/sausage. For non-pork eaters, some roast or corned beef
Cheese – Mild cheeses such as fontina, brie, or Colby Jack. Nothing with too forward of a flavor. Although if your dairy guy at the Co-op recommends a new pretty awesome cheddar, don't say no
Bread and Crackers – They're nice for tasting as well as palate-cleansing. Try a mix of crispy table crackers with thick and crunchy fig crackers, or go simple with focaccia, rolls, breadsticks or hunks of naan. You'll want to include a gluten-free version of each as well. I'm always surprised by how many people are avoiding gluten
Pretzels – Pretzel sticks are a classic, although I think toasty warm soft-pretzel bites would be heavenly
Veggies – Especially roasted or boiled new potatoes or fingerlings. And there's always the tater tot
Bubbles and Booze
For washing it all down, one can never go wrong with wine. Although there's nothing wrong with coolers filled with different types of German beer or, better still, friends who brew their own(!)
(My completely uneducated vote? Sparkling wine. Because bubbles go with everything)
Provide a Palate Cleanser
Having everyone effectively rinse out their mouths between samples lets them to fully taste each type of mustard. Some great ideas for palate cleansers: bread, crackers, slices of apple. Always with water
A Little Structure Isn't a Bad Thing
Lucky for us, one of our guests had been to lots of different tastings at the university. She served as a guide and offered a bit of direction by having everybody taste the first sample at the same time
She taught us to first speak of the smell, then the taste, and not to forget about the texture. These three will define the experience
Another tip from the tasting pro?
When we don't necessarily have a language that is (in this case) mustard only .. borrow from wine. We can borrow all of the senses in terms of smell and taste to really explain it. For example, mustard is similar to white wine in that it has a long flavor progression. Mustard starts off a bit salty and then gets a little hotter and a little hotter until it builds
Don't forget to ask everyone to jot down their thoughts so you can refine your recipe and process for the next batches
Whatever Should I Wear?
If you're someone who spills things on your clothes all of the time (me!) .. know that mustard can be really, really hard to wash out. A few tips for fighting stains?
It was decided to perhaps, be a more careful eater. Or wear your favorite mustard colored shirt
Have you ever been to a tasting (mustard or otherwise)? I’d love to hear your tips!