Sowing the seeds of a French mustard boom
Mustard is the ultimate French condiment. Connexion reports on the only French moutarde maker to grow its own seeds
France produces the most mustard in Europe and 80% comes from the Côte-d’Or in Bourgogne-Franche-Comté. However, people may be surprised to learn that France grows very little of the mustard plant which produces the seeds which are turned into this popular condiment.
Up until recently, the vast majority was imported, mostly from Canada and eastern Europe and it is only since 2000 that farmers have begun to grow it again – last year, 30% was home produced.
Before the Second World War all mustard was grown locally and it has always been a very important part of Burgundy’s gastronomy. It was introduced into France under the Roman Empire and was appreciated for its medicinal qualities – it has long been known for its antiseptic, anti-inflammatory and digestive properties. Queen Victoria famously used mustard seeds in her bath to improve circulation.
In the Middle Ages the Dukes of Burgundy favoured this condiment at their feasts, first to ease digestion during their copious banquets and then for its taste. Soon they were exporting mustard to royal families all over Europe.
At first vinegar was used to make the mustard, but then verjus (unripe grape juice), was used to make a better product and Burgundy was ideally situated to provide the grapes from its numerous vineyards.
The plant was often grown by charcoal manufacturers, because it grew well in the soil which was left after the trees had been burnt and it also provided additional income for them.
However, charcoal burning began to die out as an activity and with it the mustard crops. After the Second World War, farmers were encouraged to grow much needed food crops and by the end of the 1980s, mustard crops had virtually disappeared, replaced by the more lucrative Colza. Yet mustard continued to be made in the region and so the seeds had to be imported.
Burgundy is still the main mustard producing region of France. There are four companies which dominate the market: Amora-Maille (Unilever), Reine de Dijon (Develey), Européenne de Condiments (Kühne) and Maison Fallot.
Maison Fallot in Beaune is the only one which has not been overtaken by a multi-national company and it has been in the same family since 1840. It has been one of the leading campaigners to make mustard 100% French again, and it still grinds its mustard seeds using stone mill wheels. The CEO is Marc Désarménien, the grandson of founder Edmond Fallot: “This year we expect to use 100% locally grown mustard seed. Last year we were already up to 60% and we are very proud of this fact,” he said.
One of the company’s main products is Moutarde de Bourgogne, which was created in 2009 with a European Protected Geographical label – which shows that all its ingredients are local.
So is this a Dijon Mustard, the king of mustards from Burgundy?
“The name Dijon Mustard refers to a recipe,” says Mr Désarménien, “which means it can be made anywhere in the world. It is why we introduced a new label which is guaranteed local. The new Burgundy Mustard is inspired by the original and traditional recipes for Dijon Mustard, and we have added Burgundy white wine, which makes it a little less bitter and creates a more gastronomic product.”
In his mill, the mustard is made from mustard seed, verjus and flavourings and spices.
The seed comes from the Brassica Juncea Czern and Cosson variety which is commonly known as brown mustard or Indian Mustard and is a vigorous variety with an excellent flavour and it is the main ingredient in Dijon type mustards.
When the seeds arrive at the Fallot mill, they are first washed and then sent to a vibrating winnowing machine which eliminates any parasites, grass seeds and other foreign bodies.
They are then weighed and put into vats where they are steeped in a mixture of vinegar, water and salt. This will make it easier to separate the husk from the kernel.
They are then milled by granite stones which Maison Fallot prefers because it says it prevents the mixture from being overheated so that it retains all its flavour.
The mixture is then passed through huge sieves to get rid of the kernels, unless it is moutarde à l’ancienne when the seeds are, of course, kept in.
The final step is placing the mustard into barrels where it is kept for several hours so that it will lose its bitterness and due to a chemical reaction it will release its mustard taste. It is then ready to be bottled.
An increasing number of different seasonings are now added to mustards, for example at Fallot you can buy it flavoured with Dijon blackcurrants, tarragon, walnuts, green pepper, basil, pinot noir and even gingerbread.
Fallot makes 2,000 tonnes of quality mustard a year, which is just a fraction of the 75,000 tonnes produced in the region. However, Mr Désarménien says the future is promising as sales continue to rise each year: “It is a trending product, which is increasingly popular with customers who want to know where their food comes from. In cooking people no longer want to make an elaborate sauce; using a good quality olive oil and mustard is all that is necessary for a gourmet meal.”
The Fallot Mustard Mill in Beaune is open all year round. Booking required. See www.fallot.com
RECIPE: Fillet of beef with carrots and Fallot blackcurrant mustard
Ingredients (serves 4)
- 4 slices of beef fillet (150g)
- 1 violet carrot
- juice of a lemon
- 200g carrots
- ½ litre orange juice
- Blackcurrant mustard
- salt, pepper, beef stock, chive flowers, olive oil, thyme
1. Wash, peel and cut the carrots. Cook them in ½ litre of orange juice, mix them to a purée then season.
2. Wash the violet carrot and cook it with its skin, with the juice of a lemon, thyme, salt, pepper and olive oil, in an oven at 180°C for 15 mins.
3. Cut it in four immediately on taking it out of the oven.
4. Cook the beef to your taste. Put the beef on a plate, covered with a serving of blackcurrant mustard and small pieces of violet carrot, a quenelle of orange-flavoured carrot purée, chive flowers, a chunk of violet carrot and a spoonful of beef stock. Serve.
To make sure that the mustard does not dry out, put a slice of lemon on the mustard in its jar and put the top on carefully.