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  • Writer's picture5 Senses CulinaryTours

A Whole lot Spicier than that!!

Updated: Jan 7

I could be called the condiment queen, as the whole top shelf of my refrigerator is filled with tasty condiments, mostly types of mustard which I love. From those with honey, tarragon, cognac, garlic, truffle, to sriracha, so many different flavors. True Dijon mustard can be traced back to the 14th century, with famous brand Maille claiming a rather unexpected link to the bubonic plague. Antoine-Claude Maille set about creating the Vinegar of the Four Thieves, an infusion of vinegar with herbs, spices and garlic, designed to save the disadvantaged residents of Marseille from the deadly disease. Sufferers were advised to drink one teaspoon mixed in a glass of water or rub it into their temples and palms.

By the mid-18th century, the family head of Maille was working with his son and had progressed to making a delicious array of vinegars and mustards, winning high-status fans such as Madame de Pompadour, Louis XV’s mistress. They opened their first shop, La Maison Maille on the rue Saint-André des Arts in Paris, in 1747, with no fewer than 101 vinegars and 84 mustard flavors.

Some may remember the Grey Poupon ads with Rolls Royces that came in the 70s, most Americans gave up that yellow hot dog mustard and started to experiment. That is also because the American company Heublein bought it. That all started with Maurice Grey, who was winning medals for his Dijon mustard machine in 1855, in 1860 was awarded a Royal Appointment for developing a machine that dramatically increased the speed of production of mustard. However, needing financing, which he obtained in 1866 from Auguste Poupon, another Dijon mustard manufacturer, the Grey–Poupon partnership produced their first mustard around 1866.

The ever-present Dijon mustard on every French table, was made by combining brown mustard seeds with white wine. It is anchored in France's Burgundy region of which Dijon is the capital and thanks to the historical co-planting of brown mustard seeds with the region's renowned grapevines, a practice introduced by the cleaver Romans to provide the vines with essential nutrients like phosphorous. Who knew?

The Monks continued to cultivate mustard in this fashion for centuries and, in 1752, the link between Dijon and mustard was cemented to Dijon by local Jean Naigeon, who married the seeds, not with vinegar, but with verjuice – the juice of unripe wine grapes.

Even today you can visit several mustard shops in the city and with the opening of the Cite du la Gastronomie with all its great exhibitions, cooking school, wine cellar and experimental kitchens where you can even make your own at the workshop. Le Manège à Moutarde (a Mustard Bar) is part of the Gastronomic Village which it stocks a truly impressive selection. Every trip to France has at least one jar tucked into my suitcase.

Horror of horrors, the shocking news that not only have we had baby formula and a multitude of other “supplyline” shortages but, now MUSTARD! Mon Dieu!!

A heatwave in Canada, the world's top mustard seed producer, is to blame for the drastic shortage that has dragged on for months in France. Canada supplies around 80 percent of the mustard seeds used by French makers of the spicy condiment, the rest coming mostly from Burgundy, the region that surrounds Dijon. The drought slashed the Canadian harvest by half in 2021. And now French mustard makers are aiming to boost production at home in Burgundy. Last June, local producers were urged to more than double the area planted with mustard seeds to 10,000 hectares. "The Canadian problems revived the importance of the Burgundy sector," said Fabrice Genin, president of the Association of Mustard Seeds Producers of Burgundy. As an incentive, mustard makers agreed to pay 2,000 euros ($2,008) per ton for Burgundy seeds in 2023, up from 1,300 euros last year and more than double what they paid in 2021.

Thanks to the demand and scare, Burgundy producers grew some 5,000 tons of mustard seeds. I have been watching the shelves of my stores, luckily it seems we are going to be just fine.

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