In the beginning... As early as 3000 B.C., records show that mustard was an ingredient in Indian curry. And the first recipe for mustard was published in 42 A.D. The Egyptians used it to add flavor to their meat. The Romans were familiar with mustard as well and spread its use together with their successive invasions.
A popular condiment during the 12th and 13th centuries, and well-established at the court of the Dukes of Burgundy, it was only produced in Dijon where the process methods remained very similar to the ones used by the Gauls. Dijon was already considered the mustard capital and this reputation was the result of very hard labor: the mustard seeds were still ground with a pestle and a mortar (and a good amount of elbow-grease)!
The great explorations and discoveries of the 16th century introduced many new plants and spices (vanilla, nutmeg, cloves...) which brought variations to the taste of mustard. In 1634, 23 Dijon mustard producers received exclusive permission to make and sell mustards.
Until the early 18th century, mustards had not changed much since their discovery thousands of years earlier. But Jean Naigeon, the founder of the Amora company, revolutionized the industry when he started using non-fermented grape juice (verjus) instead of strong vinegar, and this considerably improved the taste of mustard. Dijon became more famous yet and acquired the reputation of producing the best mustard. By 1812, 93 kinds of mustards were being sold in Paris.
Not all mustards are alike. While all mustards are made from mustard seeds, mustards can differ widely in taste and ingredients. To add to the confusion, many mustards produced in the United States bear the word "Dijon" on their labels, leading consumers to believe that they are purchasing a French product. The French government takes mustard-making very seriously and does not allow the addition of coloring agents; it also prohibits the use of non-organic chemical preservatives. Here are some terms you should know when you shop for French mustards:
Moutarde de Dijon is made in the Dijon area. This type is a pale, burnished gold color with a pungent taste. It has the rare ability to accompany and enhance other flavors. These mustards are made from black or yellow seeds (no white seeds), traditionally with the hull removed.
Moutarde à l'Ancienne (Old-fashioned) is another method for making mustard in Dijon that began in the 17th century. Seeds are roughly ground with the hulls left in the mustard flour. This method produced a milder flavored mustard.
Moutarde can be used on labels from France when the mustard is made only with black or yellow mustard seeds
Condiment involves mustards containing white seeds.
Moutarde Blanche appears on most white mustards.
Moutarde Forte is a strong mustard containing at least 28% mustard powder.
Flavored mustards containing herbs, spices, fruits, wine... are generally somewhat milder.
The formulas for making these mustards are highly secret-- the type of French wine or vinegar used for the brine, the way the seeds are soaked before milling, the kinds of herbs or spices added.
Edmond Fallot, faithful to traditional production methods. Although many manufacturers still use their time-proven recipes, things have changed a lot on the production front. The industrial revolution brought the first mustard factories, loaded with equipment that enabled producers to cut their costs...but also tempered with the integrity of the product. The use of high-speed metal crushers, while processing very large amounts of mustard, overheats the paste, destroys the flavor and reduces the keeping qualities of the product. The result: a bland mustard without soul.
Edmond Fallot founded his Fabrique de Moutarde in 1840 and the company still uses the ancient production methods. Touring the factory is quite a sight: the mustards seeds are first soaked in giant oak barrels, then ground with extra-hard flint millstones that turn more slowly than other machines and do not heat up the paste. The difference in taste is simply amazing and you owe it to yourself to find out what an authentic Dijon mustard tastes like.
Some tips and ideas.
Dijon Mustard is a very simple, basic ingredient that works magic in the kitchen: in no time at all, you can transform an ordinary pork chop into a sumptuous dish.
Mustard does not usually spoil but it loses pungency once opened. Buy the size that is appropriate to your pattern of use.
Remember that mustard is very delicate and that its pungency fades with heat: when cooking with mustard, add it at the last minute.
When preparing a vinaigrette, add a bit of mustard to your sauce: not only does it boost its flavor, it also works an emulsifier and will hold the oil and vinegar together.
Our recipes with Dijon mustard:
Mustard Tart-Tarte à la Moutarde
Chicken with Mustard-Poulet à la Moutarde
Pork Chops with Mustard-Côtes de Porc à la Moutarde