Thursday, November 01, 2007

The Last Word on Cleveland Mustard (maybe)

This is my 100th post on this blog. And like about 90 of the previous posts, this one will deal with the unanswered questions surrounding the Cleveland mustard debate. It will answer one of those questions. However, the question as to which is best remains open.

And then I promise to shut up on this issue. At least for a while.

First, let me thank my correspondents. Rich the Killer Cameraman sent me the bottle of Bertman Ball Park Mustard that he picked up while working one of the American League Championship Series games at Jacobs Field. My colleague Ron brought back a bottle of Stadium Mustard he picked up on a run home to Cleveland last weekend.

And yes, they are, without a doubt, two different products.

Label claims made by both are a little confusing as to which came first. Ball Park touts itself as "CLEVELAND'S FAMOUS ORIGINAL" (caps and italics are theirs), and lists the three stadiums in which the Indians have played - League Park, Cleveland Stadium and Jacobs Field - although it doesn't go as far as saying the mustard was served there. Stadium Mustard's label says it's "THE AUTHENTIC" (again, their caps) and adds, "Enjoyed by Millions of Fans for More Than 50 Years."

Okay. One's "original," one's "authentic." I suppose they can both be what they claim to be without stepping on each other.

Ball Park Mustard's ingredients list distilled vinegar, mustard seed, sugar, salt and spices. Stadium Mustard is made with water, vinegar, mustard seed, salt and red pepper.

The consistency of Ball Park mustard is much thicker and smoother. Stadium Mustard is noticeably grainier and a little runnier.

To see if there was a taste difference, I set up a side-by-side comparison at work. Ron, who is steadfastly in the Stadium Mustard camp, recused himself from the taste test. I enlisted the help of John and Other John, both non-Clevelanders who had never tasted, nor heard of either brand.
Being hungry and never passing up an opportunity to eat in the name of research, I also participated.

I cooked up hot dogs for each of us and put Ball Park on one end of each dog, Stadium on the other end. We ate. John said Stadium was a bit spicier. Other John noted the slightly sweeter, tangy flavor of Ball Park. Both Johns admitted both mustards were very good, but tended to favor Ball Park. I agreed.

So, the three non-Clevelanders gave the nod to Bertman Ball Park Mustard.

However, when it comes to Clevelanders, the preferences is strongly in favor of Stadium Mustard.

With the exceptions of Rich the Killer Cameraman, who likes Ball Park, and Cleveland Jeff, who still swears the mustards are one and the same, Stadium Mustard is king among those who grew up on the North Coast. The Remarkable Marcy, Ron, Chicago Jeff and Travelin' Todd are practically militant in their allegiance to Stadium Mustard.

Todd gave me some insight into this yesterday. All these Clevelanders grew up in a time when both the Indians and the Browns played in Municipal Stadium, where Stadium Mustard had the franchise. He said it was practically a rite of passage for dads to excitedly round up their kids for their first trek to the stadium, telling them, "Wait 'til you taste the mustard!" It's the condiment of their youth.

Todd also said that unlike sports teams, which have their ups and downs (and in Cleveland, lots of downs), mustard remains consistent. And for a city whose image has taken its lumps, this is something it can proudly claim as its own really, really good thing. And if there are two really, really good things, is that so bad?

11 comments:

peteej said...

Wow, I thought this kind of debate was only relevant to hot sauce. I had no idea mustard was such a big deal. Thanks for putting yourself at great risk in order to bring us this post. :)

WhiteTrashBBQ said...

Great post on a condiment I see dying out. Watch kids eat hot dogs now. None of them will use mustard.

Watch teens eat hot dogs. 99% will still only use ketchup.

Then the 20-40 crowd. Ketchup still reigns supreme.

Pity really.

Erika W. said...

Congrats on the 100th post!

sullicom said...

Thanks for all the comments. It's nice to see people this passionate about something, even if it's a condiment. And I'm one who believes that ketchup has no place on a hot dog. Having spent so much of my life in Chicago, where it's more about the dog than the mustard, you get looked at funny if you put ketchup on it. Mustard, onion, relish, sport peppers, glue, paint and cat litter are okay on the dog. But not ketchup.

peteej said...

I find myself doing the ketchup/mustard thing regularly, only as a convenience. I swear I wish there was a huge condiment bar in my house. Raw onions, chili, cheese, ten kinds of mustard, fresh relish, sauerkraut, etc., but especially paint and cat litter (used, of course). :P

Anonymous said...

bertman was the original mustard but it was not sold retail. a deal was made with the owners of stadium mustard to jointly market the product in retail stores. after many years of joint effort the two groups had a falling out resulting in a law suit. they now both make the mustard. the newer guys call it stadium mustard and the original bertman family calls it ballpark. if there is a difference it is probably accidental or due to some quality control fluke.

vabookco said...

I grew up in Cleveland in the 70's and enjoyed Stadium Mustard at Municiple Stadium. About a year ago I got the craving so I searched for Stadium Mustard and ordered a case of Authentic Stadium Mustard. It has the same taste that I remembered from Municiple Stadium. Having done more research I learned about Bertman's, so I just ordered a case of it. It is very close but not the same. I noticed a bitter after-taste. And then I tried some Stadium Mustard and noted that it had a little more vinegar. Side by side, I like Stadium. However I have heard that bitterness can be the result of a particular batch of mustard seed. On another note, a case of Bertman's 16 oz bottles is a better value than Stadium's 12 oz bottles. With shipping they were $35 and $30 respectively.

vabookco said...

I grew up in Cleveland in the 70's and enjoyed Stadium Mustard at Municiple Stadium. About a year ago I got the craving so I searched for Stadium Mustard and ordered a case of Authentic Stadium Mustard. It has the same taste that I remembered from Municiple Stadium. Having done more research I learned about Bertman's, so I just ordered a case of it. It is very close but not the same. I noticed a bitter after-taste. And then I tried some Stadium Mustard and noted that it had a little more vinegar. Side by side, I like Stadium. However I have heard that bitterness can be the result of a particular batch of mustard seed. On another note, a case of Bertman's 16 oz bottles is a better value than Stadium's 12 oz bottles. With shipping they were $35 and $30 respectively.

Anonymous said...

Bertmans is by far the best. Although most think that "stadium mustard" is what is served @ Progressive Field..it is actually Bertmans (the REAL original)

Anonymous said...

Bertman's was served at municipal stadium. The only reason it is not served at the new Browns stadium is because the Bertman co. would not pay a $10,000 advertising fee. It is the original and the one you remember tasting as a child.

fastballweb said...

I'm a Tigers fan from Michigan and Cleveland can literally kiss my cornhole. But I am also passionate about hot dogs and I firmly believe there is no single hot dog topping that is better than Stadium Mustard.

A large supply of it somehow made its way into a Big Lots store up here, and I purchased one not expecting much (considering the low-key sticker on the front).

I was blown away. There is no other mustard that is anything like it. (Bertmans notwithstanding) A plain hot dog is pretty boring but Stadium Mustard makes it complete.

That said, nothing compares to a full-on Detroit coney, and for that you need Plochman's.