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The Mustard Man

Bob and Cari Wagner make old-fashioned mustard

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Bob Wagner has been in the broadcasting business since he was 17 years old. His wife, Cari, cleans houses for a living. But because Bob's father had a penchant for good mustard, the two of them plan on spending a significant amount of time at the Food and Technology Center in the University of Idaho's satellite campus in Caldwell. It was there, bright and early on a Saturday morning, that Boise Weekly caught up with the Wagners to see their mustard-making process.

While mixing a vat of bi-colored mustard seeds with a 2-foot-long hand blender, Bob explained that the idea to make and sell mustard just sort of fell into his lap after he made a bit of it to send to his father, who was disgruntled with the choices at his local grocery store.

"He was searching for the mustard of his youth," Bob said.

So, what is the secret to good mustard?

"Mustard seeds, water, salt and vinegar. Basic good ingredients. Why do you need corn syrup in mustard? Why do you need corn syrup in anything?" Bob asked, shaking his head.

Bob uses two varieties of mustard seeds that are grown organically in Idaho's Long Valley area. The first step is to combine them with water and vinegar and blend vigorously. During this step, the mustard seeds begin to break down and split open.

Asked if it was difficult to get to know all the industrial kitchen equipment at the Food and Technology Center, Bob replied: "I've been involved in industrial food production for most of my adult life. I've run restaurants and so on, so it's not that foreign."

In fact, Bob said he once worked in a fudge factory and later wrote a chocolate cookbook.

"I'm the kind of guy that does a lot of different things because I get bored easily," he said, though, he admits that both he and Cari hope the mustard business will really take off.

"It's sort of our retirement plan," he said.

Meanwhile, in the background, Cari sterilized all the mustard jars and set them out at the front of an assembly line, ready for the bottling process. A giant funnel sat atop a stainless steel machine that pumps the finished mustard into the jars. Brown boxes waited patiently at the end of the line. The whole thing looked like a scene straight out of Mister Rogers' Neighborhood.

At this stage, Bob turned off the big mixer and carefully measured out his spices. Suddenly, Cari in a controlled, yet almost frantic tone asked: "Did you bring the lids?"

Luckily, Bob did. The Wagners rent the industrial kitchen by the hour, which can be a large expense for a fledgling business.

Bob returned to the large stainless steel bowl, poured in his spices and a generous dose of sea salt, and revved up the hand blender once again.

"This is the final step," he said.

He worked the mustard until it was just the right, spreadable consistency, with the mustard really looking the part--creamy and incredibly aromatic. It was tempting to taste, but Bob warned against eating it the same day it's made.

"You'll want to let it season a day or two. It's going to be really sharp today. It's going to be like, 'Oh my god, I can't believe this is so strong.'"

On this particular Saturday, the Wagners mixed up three batches of mustard--smoky hot, old fashioned and dill--which they've dubbed "The Three Mustard-teers."

The Wagners filled 500 eight-oz. jars that day, some of which can be purchased at Stonehenge Produce in Boise or at Rosauers Supermarket in Meridian.

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