Fox More than a Mustard
Aug 28, 2010 11:13AM
● By Erin Frisch
Some people use the phrase “food with a face” to refer to food that comes from critters who have eyes, noses, and mouths. When Phyllis Fox says, “I’m all about food with a face,” however, she means food that comes attached to a human face. She means food that comes from local sources and is purchased at farmers’ markets or specialty shops from people rooted to the community. The Japanese have a word for it: “seikatsu.”
She began making her mustard while working at a gourmet food store in Glencoe, Illinois. People liked it so much they would bring back their empty jars for refills. It didn’t occur to her to be a professional mustard maker until a while later when her family relocated to a rural property just off Route 10 in Lyme, New Hampshire, just north of Hanover. Her husband went off to work, her two children to school, and Phyllis was left to figure out what she wanted to be when she grew up. A lifelong cook and student of good food, she thought back to the compliments she had received on her original recipe mustard. Thus, Fox More Than a Mustard was born. This was in 1981, before the world had heard of “slow food,” locavores, and sustainable living.
This mustard is no slouch when it comes to a sausage or a slice of bread. The Ommegang Brewery in Cooperstown, New York, specialists in Belgian beers, is one of her biggest customers, recently ordering 25 cases. But it is the “more than” part of the product that makes it unique. “FMTAM,” as insiders refer to it, can be an essential component of a glaze, marinade, or salad dressing.
The taste of Fox’s is better left to the mouth than the keyboard, but it’s irresistible to try to describe it. It’s sweet (that’s from the molasses), and tangy (from the imported balsamic), with attitude (from the garlic) and mystery (from what Phyllis won’t tell you).
Phyllis’s original “factory” was her country kitchen, where she would make batches of seven jars at a time. “When it came time to order labels,” she says, “I had to order a minimum of 1,000. I thought I’d be wallpapering my bathroom with them.”
It didn’t take long to outgrow her kitchen, and presently the food processing part of the business is done in Burlington while she concentrates on sales, marketing, and maintaining accounts. She has shipped her mustard worldwide but resists the temptation to diversify or to grow too fast. “I want it to be fun,” she says, defining fun as making quality products, working with enjoyable people, and having repeat customers. She knows that word-of-mouth referrals are the key to the success of niche products like hers.
Fox More Than a Mustard now comes in different sizes, but the basic recipe has remained unchanged for almost 30 years. In a world where coping with change is a full-time occupation, it’s comforting to know that at least one thing is exactly the same (and just as good) as ever. When you’ve got it right, there’s no need to change.
Phyllis Fox’s Marinade
This versatile marinade that is great for chicken, beef, shrimp, or spare ribs.
- 1/4 cup Fox More Than a Mustard
- 1/4 cup hoisin sauce
- 1 tsp tamari
- Juice from 1/2 lemon
- 2 tsp chopped fresh ginger
Stephen Morris is editor of Green Living Journal and has been eating Fox More Than a Mustard since 1981.