Alibi V.23 No.5 • Jan 30-Feb 5, 2014 

Food 101

The Lure and Lore of Mustard

Gail Guengerich

Tell people that you once spent a week in Dijon (because some salaud stole your bike on day 5 of your budget bike tour of France and you had to improvise), and the first thing they’ll say is “What did you do there, eat mustard? Har har har.”

Did I ever. The original 1777 Grey Poupon boutique with the large windows awash in glass jars of yellow, brown and pink mustard still stands on La Rue de la Liberté We were on it.

Grey Poupon, now under the wing of Maille in France (where it is produced only for export) and the wing of (travesty!) Kraft Foods in the US, is but one bright star in the mustard universe. This article will guide you in configuring your own constellation of fine mustards for home consumption and soon-to-be fashionable mustard parties.

But first some history: (You’ll want to go on at length about the history of mustard at your mustard parties!) The art of mustard-making dates back to pre-Biblical times. Cultivated first in India; enjoyed by the ancient Hebrews and Greeks (Talmudic scholars say Abraham served mustard with calf tongue to some incognito angels); mashed right at the table with a little wine by the ancient Romans; mustard was then conveyed via Rome to Gaul where it became a favorite crop of monks.

Skip forward to the 1200’s when Pope John XXII of Avignon declared one of his lazy-ass, unemployed nephews in Dijon “Grand Moutardier du Pape” (Grand Mustard-Maker to the Pope). And that is how Dijon became the mustard capital of Europe.

The original 1777 Grey Poupon boutique with the large windows awash in glass jars of yellow, brown and pink mustard still stands on La Rue de la Liberté We were on it.

Grey Poupon in Dijon, Maille in Paris, Colman’s in Britain, French’s in America ... the rest is history.

And now here we are in the 21st century, heads spinning with a surfeit of mustards—sweet, spicy, smooth and beady. The crafting process is fairly uniform—mustard seeds are crushed in a cool liquid (vinegar, wine, unripened grape juice, water or beer) and flavored with salt, herbs, fruits, peppers or sweeteners. Some mustards are heated (good mustards aren’t heated so much as to destroy the volatile oils); some are aged.

So here are your mustard “must-haves” listed under their most salient attribute:

Local: Lusty Monk Named for those mustard-growing monks of yore, christened with names like “Original Sin,” (regular stone ground) “Altar Boy” (honey mustard) and “Burn in Hell” (chipotle), Lusty Monk splits its provenance between Lusty Monk East (North Carolina) and Lusty Monk West (Albuquerque). Be proud of this mustard—it’s a darling at national awards shows. Available at Whole Foods (WF) and La Montañita Co-op (LMC).

Green Chile: Old Pecos Foods Obviously you’re going to want to have a green chile mustard in your flight. Thank God, the also local, Old Pecos Foods has hooked us up with a tasty yellow mustard laced with green chile powder. (WF, LMC, etc)

Jewish: Ba-Tampte Remember that story about Abraham and the calf’s tongue? Jews have been enjoying mustard a freakin’ long time. This is a Jewish deli fixture from Brooklyn—medium grind, both fiery and smooth. (LMC)

French: No, not French’s! OMG. A la France! Grey Poupon or Maille. One creamy, white-wine soaked mustard and one stone-ground are obligatory fixtures in your collection. Available in most stores.

Sweet: Bone Suckin’ Mustard This butterscotch-colored mustard from Raleigh is sweetened with brown sugar and molasses. Jalapeño peppers add a very mild zing. (WF)

Pink: Edmond Fallot’s Blackcurrant Dijon Imported from the charming town of Beaune, near Dijon, this mauve mustard is desirable for its ravishing hue and its unique flavor (somewhat acquired). Think briny dry fruit tones. (Talin)

Now you are ready for your first mustard party! Feel free to explore other additions such as Inglehoffer or something German. Just remember to never let the topic swerve off of mustard.