Cut the mustard, keen as mustard – it’s certainly a condiment that keeps upbeat. But so often, from rustic wholegrain to the most delicate of Dijons, it’s a disappointment. ie. they don’t cut the mustard. For all the artisan labels you’re mostly getting an industrial product. Not as bland as supermarket bread made from the Chorleywood process or all those international beers that delight in being Lite. Yet when you’ve tasted the real thing…
My Mustard Damascus Moment came in a small factory tucked away in downtown Beaune. I was in Burgundy’s epicentre to taste the wines (naturellement) but the true lipsmacking legacy was Edmond Fallot’s speciality Dijon mustards.
Dijon, 30 miles to the north, was the centre of medieval mustard making (must was often included) and was granted exclusive naming rights in the 17th century. The basic method is not complex – a combination of mustard seeds, white wine or wine vinegar, water and salt. A 1937 decree ruled that ‘Dijon mustard’ can be used as generic designation and has no link to a specific terroir.
Nor is there a stipulation about sticking to traditional methods. That’s what the Fallot family, unlike their rivals, have been doing in Beaune since 1840, today under the stewardship of Marc Désarménien, grandson of Edmond. They still go down the traditional route. Using antique millstones, they grind high quality brown mustard seeds mixed with verjuice, extracted from Burgundy grapes.
After which they are at liberty to widen the palette. In their colourful tasting room/shop I worked my way through flavoured mustards that ranged from truffe de Bourgogne to cassis (blackcurrant), Espelette pepper to Madagascan green pepper, samples of which I brought home. There’s even a yuzu version (which I didn’t).
The one that won my heart, though, and remains the base for my Béarnaise and Poulet à L’Estragon is the Tarragon Mustard. Of all the flavours beyond the basic Fallot it is the easiest to source. It is made from black and brown mustard seeds blended with fresh tarragon leaves, giving it an extraordinary aroma and texture that also adds oomph when a powerful vinaigrette is called for.
A good introduction to its joys is this simple Burgundian dish from Fallot’s own website:
Chicken Fricassee with Fallot Dijon Tarragon Mustard
1 chicken (around 1kg)
100g small white onions
200ml chicken stock
fresh mixed herbs
100ml fresh cream
2 tbsp Fallot Dijon Tarragon Mustard
salt and pepper.
Cut the chicken into pieces. Season and dust the pieces with flour. Brown them in a large casserole dish with hot butter. Add small white onions. Moisten with the chicken stock. Add mixed herbs. Bring to a boil. Cook for 35 minutes. Set aside chicken and onions in a dish. Keep them warm. Allow the sauce to reduce. Add cream and mustard. Bring to the boil. Season according to taste. Pour the sauce over chicken pieces and sprinkle with minced tarragon.
My wine recommendation is any affordable red Burgundy from Santenay or Marsannay.
A potted history of Mustard in Burgundy
Until the Second World War Burgundian woodland was where mustard was cultivated. Discarded ash from charcoal burning was rich in potash, perfect growing material. When the plants were mature the charcoal makers sold the strong and biting seeds on to the mustard manufacturers of Dijon and Beune.
Then the demand for charcoal waned, so those manufacturers were forced to look elsewhere in France, eventually outside to the United States and Canada. Recently, though, Burgundy Mustard Association, in which Fallot plays a major role, is giving new impetus to cultivation across the region again.
That has been boosted by the approval in 2009 of PGI (Protected Geographical Indication) status. So locally specific Moutarde à la Bourgogne can distance itself as a quality product, separate from the generic name Dijon Mustard. Think specific ‘West Country Cheddar’ as opposed to all those global takes on that cheese’s noble name. Tarragon mustard with Montgomery’s or Aged Keen’s. Must try.