Stillwater, Minnesota Travel Agent
Step Outside Your Comfort Zone
I hate mustard. If there’s one item on a menu guaranteed to get me to choose something else, it’s anything with mustard as an ingredient. You could not pay me to eat mustard on a sandwich. Do you love mustard? Let’s agree to disagree!
Yet, mustard – and a mustard tasting event – formed the centerpieces of one of the most enjoyable experiences I’ve had while traveling. I’ll share my mustard story with you in this blog post because I think that it illustrates in a small way how traveling can help us step out of our comfort zones, try new things, and perhaps return home with a different perspective.
A year ago, I spent ten days exploring the Burgundy region of France on a hotel barge cruise. My small ship, accommodating only ten passengers in luxury, meandered slowly along the bucolic and tranquil canals of this charming part of the country. Vineyards dotted the landscape, history was everywhere, and our intimate group enjoyed gourmet meals crafted from local ingredients by our private chef. Every day was a delight.
Something sinister lurked on the horizon, though.
I knew that Thursday was going to be a day of reckoning. You guessed it – Thursday was the day we would visit a small, locally-owned mustard factory (a “moutarderie” in French), followed by a private tasting of the finished product.
It was overcast on Thursday morning. Well, no, it was actually a beautiful day! Mentally, though, I wasn’t excited about the excursion. The mustard factory was about a ten minute drive from our barge, and our guide filled the time with stories of the old days when mustard seed farms abounded in the region. We learned that, in fact, this mustard factory is the last one left in Burgundy that still makes mustard the old fashioned way, using only locally grown seeds as the foundation.
Armed with this knowledge, I approached the tour with a slightly better mindset. This was a historical relic, after all. I can do that!
The factory itself is quite small, and is located off of a courtyard in the middle of a typical small French provincial town. It is built around a courtyard, featuring a small historical museum and an authentic delivery truck from the 1920’s. The factory’s owner, the latest in a line of family owners stretching back over one hundred years, led our tour. Not only did we see how the mustard is actually processed, he showed us the actual ingredients used in production. As we stood next to a window in the building, he pointed out the side of a hill where the seeds were grown and explained how they are harvested.
I found this combination of history and food interesting, and hearing the story of mustard from the owner gave me a bit of an appreciation for what they do.
But…just around the corner was the dreaded tasting.
Sure enough, at the end of the tour, we entered a modern room where samples of the mustard we had just seen made were waiting to be sampled. I hesitated for a while, but eventually, my curiosity got the better of me. I had seen the process, literally from start to finish, and though it would be a shame – not to mention kind of rude - to not try at least a drop or two. So, I grabbed a micro dab of mustard, and a glass of water just to be safe, and put it in my mouth.
As you can guess, the world didn’t come to an end. Emboldened, I tried a couple more samples of different mustards, and found one that I actually thought tasted pretty good. So good, in fact, that I bought a small jar to bring home for myself, as well as a few others to give as gifts.
I still prefer to avoid mustard, most of the time. But, thanks to an opportunity to step outside my comfort zone while traveling, I had a new experience, tried something different, and grew as a person in the process. Traveling and discovering different cultures has a way of opening our minds. For me, it took a trip to France and a tour of a mustard factory to prompt me to try a new food. As you dream about your next trip, ask yourself the question – how will I step outside of my comfort zone when I’m traveling? The answer might surprise you.
Based on a column originally appearing in the Forest Lake Times on February 21, 2018.