Here’s a culinary “six degrees of separation.” What one food connects a revolutionary war veteran with John Quincy Adams, Joseph-Napolean Bonaparte, Edgar Allan Poe, 19th century banker and philanthropist Spencer Trask, a 19th century banker and philanthropist?
Mustard. Specifically, Barhyte Mustard, the favorite mustard of people more famous than you.
Jacobus Barhyte fought in the Revolutionary War under General Horatio Gates in the Battle of Saratoga in 1777, a turning point as the victory made France our ally in the conflict and ever since. After the war, Barhyte settled down on 200 acres in what is now Saratoga Springs, New York. He built a house and a mill, got married, and opened a tavern where he served a sweet and sour mustard based on a family recipe from his native Germany.
Barhyte’s tavern and the magnificent trout fishing nearby drew visitors like John Quincy Adams and King Joseph Napoleon of Spain, who repeatedly asked Barhyte to sell him the property. Edgar Allan Poe is said to have composed part of “The Raven” in Barhyte’s woods, and in 1900 financier Spencer Trask founded Yaddo, the famous Saratoga Springs artists’ retreat encompassing Barhyte’s land. Some Barhyte descendents settled in Pendleton, Oregon an old trading post on the Oregon Trail, eventually founding a food company based on Jacobus’ mustard.
Mustard dates back to Greek and Roman times, when it was used medicinally, and the technique to make it remains the same today. Crush mustard seeds, add a liquid like vinegar, water, wine or beer, and seasonings. The Romans brought mustard seeds to Gaul and by the ninth century French monks perfected mustard preparation. In the early 1300s Pope John XXII created the “Grand Moutardier du Pape” (Mustard-maker to the Pope), filling the post with his nephew.
For Christians, the mustard seed is a metaphor for faith. From the Book of Matthew: “For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, 'Move from here to there,' and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you." Düsseldorf opened Germany’s first mustard factory in 1726, Colman’s English mustard was created in 1814 and Dijon became mustard-central in France by the 1850s.
None of this was on the mind of a young woman named Suzy in the 1960’s when, just four days out of high school, she tied the knot with Jan Barhyte. Up until then she hadn’t set foot in a kitchen, but after the arrival of sons Chris, Mike and Jeff, Suzie discovered her inner gourmand, baking bread and making homemade pasta. In 1979 the couple opened Swift & Martin Station Deli to sell “quality cheeses, meats and homemade soups and desserts,” along with excellent coffee which they got from a small Seattle company called Starbucks. The only thing they couldn’t find was a good quality mustard. So they made one, based Jacobus’ recipe.
The deli did well, but the mustard did better. Suzie switched from filling paper cups with mustard to bottling it, her babysitter staying to help screw on the lids and attach labels. The Barhytes commissioned a marketing study, found there was a market for European gourmet mustards in the United States, “took a deep breath and dove in.”
Up until that time French’s mustard dominated the market. “French’s is a fine hotdog mustard,” says Suzie, “but it wasn’t European.” French’s uses white and yellow seeds, while European types use more robust brown ones. “With the deli, our market was our small town. With the mustard, our market could be the whole country,” she says.
Mustard has so few ingredients that each has to be premium. “We source from people who care as much about their product as we do about ours.” Their herbs are flash frozen in California and they contract with local Oregon ranchers for mustard seeds, sourcing the rest from the Dakotas.
They opened their factory on the Oregon coast in 1984, debuting with sweet n’ sour, stone ground, jalapeno, dill, horseradish and pub mustard made, according to Suzy, with “lots of beer.” For ten years they sold to small shops, at fairs and festivals, off the back of their pickup - anywhere there were people. “It was supporting us, barely, but we were making it. We always believed.” The turning point came in 1994 when a large food chain asked Barhyte to do private labeling, i.e. package Barhyte mustards under the store’s own label. It tripled their volume.
In 1994 they moved the company back to Pendleton and came up with innovations like licensing logos from 75 PAC Ten, Big Ten, SEC Conference, etc., schools for their “Collegiate Tailgate Mustards and Wing Sauces,” putting logos on bottles for loyal alumni. And Suzie started creating marinades and salad dressings, laying the groundwork for their now hugely successful “Saucy Mama” line of gourmet condiments and finishing sauces.
“The very hardest part of a young family company is that because you are always doing everything, there’s always something - sales, production - that you’re not paying close enough attention to,” remembers Susie. “Your attention is always divided.” Not any more. These days, their son Chris handles sales while his brother Mike is in production. Youngest son Jeff works elsewhere but bails them out when computers crash and Jan oversees their fifty employees.
Chris insisted that Suzie’s picture go on the “Saucy Mama” labels. “He kept saying, ‘You’re proud of them. Put your face on them.’ So I did,” she laughs. Like lots of moms, Suzie is so focused on everything and everyone else she never gives herself enough credit for Barhyte’s success, but she should. Barhyte’s private label mustard for Kroger, “Kroger’s Private Selection Whole Grain Mustard with Garlic,” beat “Grey Poupon’s Coarse Ground Mustard” at the 2009 Napa Valley Mustard Festival. It was a historic day for underdog mustards everywhere.