From Maine, a Better Yellow Mustard

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Photo by WordRidden/Flickr CC


Given all the really great goings on in the food world these days, something as seemingly simple as mustard would be easy to miss. A mention of "regular old yellow mustard" probably would initiate as much notice as snow flurries here in Ann Arbor this week--we see 'em but they're so much the norm that we'd probably pay next to no attention.

But given that we work so hard around here not to miss too much that has to do with good food and given that we serve as many corned beef and pastrami sandwiches as we do, not to mention all those (ground-fresh-daily-from-Niman-Ranch beef) burgers we grill up at the Roadhouse, taking yellow mustard for granted would be...not a really smart thing to do, if you know what I mean. Attention to detail--unglamorous as it so often is--is where it's at. Which is why, if you--like me in years past--have every fallen prey to the understandable but inaccurate assumption that all yellow mustard is sort of, kind of, pretty much, mostly the same--you should definitely reach for a bottle of Raye's.

I suppose you won't be shocked to discover we've tracked down a yellow mustard that's made by some of the most mustard-passionate people in the country: the folks at Raye's in the tiny town of Eastport, Maine. I'm embarrassed to say that I've still never been to Maine but one day soon I'm gonna get there. When I do, I'm going to be going a ways out of my way to get to Raye's, because if you look at the map, you'll see pretty quickly Eastport isn't exactly on the way to anywhere either of us is likely to driving in the next few years. Even from famous Maine high spots like Bar Harbor and Portland it's a long ways to go--Eastport looks to be almost as far north up the coast as one could go without actually crossing the border into Canada; as per its name it's actually the easternmost city in the U.S.

If you haven't 'til now paid attention to the Raye's yellow mustard it's worth taking a minute to appreciate it. You really can taste the difference.

In fact, Raye's seems like, for me at least, the number one reason to really make the trip. The town has fewer than 2,000 people in it so it's not all that likely you'll be going to visit friends or relatives either. The "town" is actually made up of four islands--maybe I'll market it as the Venice of the Northeast and we'll say that mustard making is to Eastport but glass-blowing might be to the city of the canals.

Regardless of reputation, Raye's is the only traditional stone mustard mill left in the U.S., and as Karen Raye, who runs it along with Kevin Raye, said, "It's probably the only one left in the Western Hemisphere." The mill was built 109 years ago, back at the turn of the previous century, by her husband's great-great uncle, J.W. While the original Mr. Raye might wig out over cell phones and the Internet if he were to reappear here at the end of 2009, it sounds like he'd likely be pretty at home if he were to go back to work at Raye's next Wednesday. "If he were here today," Karen told me, "he'd see the mill pretty much as it was working when he built it. We're still using the original stones," she said, referring to the eight, 2,000-pound, quartz wheels that were quarried, carved, and carted over from France in 1900.

Presented by

Ari Weinzweig is co-founder of Zingerman's Community of Businesses, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He is also the author of Zingerman's Guide to Good Eating. More

After graduating from University of Michigan with a degree in Russian history, Ari Weinzweig went to work washing dishes in a local restaurant and soon discovered that he loved the food business. Along with his partner Paul Saginaw, Ari started Zingerman's Delicatessen in 1982 with a $20,000 bank loan, a staff of two, a small selection of great-tasting specialty foods, and a relatively short sandwich menu. Today, Zingerman's is a community of businesses that employs over 500 people and includes a bakery, creamery, sit-down restaurant, training company, coffee roaster, and mail order service. Ari is the author of the best-selling Zingerman's Guide to Good Eating and the forthcoming Zingerman's Guide to Better Bacon.

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