French Gourmet Mustard

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Introduction

Mustard grains were known in Antiquity, the Chinese grew mustard over 3,000 years ago! Ancient Mediterranean cultures used mustard. Egyptians, Greeks and Romans used it to enhance meats and fish. Grains were crushed and mixed with the good.

  • Apparently the Romans brought mustard with them when they colonized Gaul, present day France (and Belgium, parts of Germany etc).
  • Later, Charlemagne (Charles the Great) recommended growing this spice in all his territories, including the gardens around monasteries around Paris.
  • Mustard cultivation spread progressively to Germany and then to England. Northern Europeans believed that sprinking a few grains of mustard around ones’ house would keep evil spirits away.
  • The origins of the term ‘mustard’ possibly comes from 2 latin words (‘Mustum Ardens’) which means ‘spicy must’. Mustard was always used with must (non fermented grape juice). The word then transited to ‘mustard’ in English. Other possible origins would refer to the Duke Philippe the Brave, Duke of Burgundy who in 1382 gave the city of Dijon various privileges, among which the right to bear arms with his motto ‘Moult me tarde’ but this does not seem likely. At least it does show that Dijon was already then quite famous for mustard as early as the 14th Century.
  • In 1390 mustard production was codified and anyone who tried making ‘bad’ mustard would be heavily fined. In large cities, door to door merchants would go selling this mustard as ‘Hellish sauces and spices’.
  • Pharmacists and apothecaries at the time apparenly raked in riches by mixing a complicated potion of mustard grains, ginger and mint, that was given to wives by their husbands in the hopes of making them receptive to their spouses!
  • Two centuries later, the Corporation of Vinegar and Mustard makers’ of the city of Dijon came to be. Their imagination enables us to enjoy the different types known today. The golden age of spices was the Renaissance, mustard was part of all banquets and it is mentioned among others in Rabelais’ literature.
  • Throughout the centuries it became synonymous of refinement and enjoyment. The fine and flavored mustards appeared.
  • In the early 19th Century, rival manufacturers vied to create new recipes and variations, encouraged famous gourmands of the day.
  • Production techniques evolved with the Industrial Revolution. Artisan technique progressively disappeared and manufacturing was automated: a machine crushed, sifts and purees the grains. Factories were born.
  • In the 20th century, rules became stricter and codified. A law passed in 1937 defined the manufacturing process and how mustards were called. A further update and modernisation of this law was passed in July 2000.
  • Moutarde de Meaux (Meaux Mustard)

    • Meaux is 60km (about 38 miles) East of Paris. It is the capital of the Seine et Marne (Dept 77) and has 70,000 inhabitants.
    • Historically, the city has evolved along with the Marne, the river it was built on. Back in Charlemagne’s day (see above), monasteries were required to cultivate mustard. He protected the mills belonging to the clergy, as well as the quarries.
    • As early as the 18th century, many mustard factories were counted. Some manufacturers had their own mills, other were specialised in cultivation and sold the wheat to artisants who made mustards for both eating and for medical and pharmaceutical use.
    • Mustard consumption was booming since it hid the flavor of not-too-fresh food (!)
    • In 1771 we find traces of mustard manufacturers in Meaux who replaced the clergy and were already quite industrialized in their production.
    • J.D. Pommery was in business already, running a milling stone quarry. He inherited the secret of the Meaux Mustard and in 1890 the Pommery Family was the only one left manufacturing mustard. In 1925 the factory is no longer in family hands and enters modern production times.
    • Today Pommery Meaux Mustard is made according to the same recipe as in the past. Ingredients are carefully selected for their qualities. This gives the product a quality that many tried to copy. Everything counts, up to the cork used in the jars.

    Different types of mustard

    • Mustard belongs to the Cruciferous plant family. There are dozens of species worldwide, but the three main ones and best known are black, white and brown.
    • Black Mustard (Brassica Nigra) has had furry leaves. It grows to about 3 feet and has yellow flowers and a round red seed. The seed turns black which explains the name. Black Mustard is rich and spicy and often used for poultices.
    • White mustard (Sinapis Alba) gows to 3 to 5 feet. It has larger yellow flowers and the seed is pale yellow. The taste is bitter and less pungent.
    • Brown mustard (Brassica juncea) is a stronger plant, with round brown seeds and is used in the mustard industry.

    Dijon Mustard

    • The Burgundy region is ideal for mustard. It is a wine-production region and ideally situaed to provide the wine and vinegar needed for mustard production. The fabled Burgundy Duchy of the Middle Ages was known for gourmants and big meat eaters and this mustard was present at every meal.
    • The soil is rich is potash, which is essential for good mustard. Dijon had an established reputation under King Louis IX (Saint Louis).
    • The first regulations were produced in 1634 for the guild of Vinegar and Mustard Makers of Dijon. Important tenets were Hygenics and Ethics. Manufacturers were required to show their adherence to these tenets.
    • Burgundy is no longer a huge grower of mustard plants, and has been declining since the 1950s. Today Canadian seeds are most often used, although revival efforts are ongoing.
    • Dijon mustard production: the mustard is sieved. The hot flavor comes from 2 ingredients in black and brown seeds which are cleaned, washed and crushed. The flour result is mixed with Must (unfermented grape juice) and white wine. Seed solids are required to be at least 22% of the finished product weight.

    Great uses for mustard!

    • Mustard was seen as a cure-all since times immemoril. It was used as an antiseptic, for digestive purposes as well as for flavoring. Poultices from mustard were used for snake bites. Here are some other examples:
    • Appetite stimulant Digestive aid (it encourages gastric juice production).
    • Gargle with mustard to help relieve a sore throat.
    • Used as a poultice for soothing bronchitis, asthma or pneumonia.
    • Also as a poultice as an antiseptic and/or distinfectant.
    • Foot soak: ground mustard seeds mixed in a bowl of hot water.
    • Antibacterial and antifungal: mixed with oil.

    Above all, today people are rediscovering the traditional quality mustards and enjoying new and unexpected flavorings. Low in calories, no fat, and tastes great, what more could you want!

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