But no one does it quite like the French.
That is, taking a simple seed that grows abundantly in the countryside -- and transforming
it into the condiment hall of fame --- a product that elevates food to a whole new level.
I'm speaking of Dijon Mustard -- that must-have jar of creamy seasoning that likely sits
on your refrigerator shelf -- just waiting to pep up your culinary cosmos.
It's not just for le hot dog.
What would a vinaigrette be without a dab of Dijon M?
Or the divine Lapin a la Moutarde (rabbit braised in mustard)?
Be it steak marinade or quiche, Dijon mustard adds flair to everything it touches.
Are you getting Dijon Vu -- the feeling that you've had this mustard before?
OK, I'll admit it, I saw that on a t-shirt once and was hoping
for a chance to use it somewhere.....
And who can forget the classic Grey-Poupon commercials of the 70's where the
stiff-necked British name-droppers traded barbs over their favorite French accessory?
Dijon is a city in Burgundy, an area rich in wine production.
The savvy grape growers knew better than to throw away any harvest
deemed too unripe for use in their priceless vintage.
The cunning producers saved the immature fruit, turning "leftovers" into payday.
Less harsh than old recipe using tried and true vinegar,
the verjuice became the "new & improved" version and the rest is history.
Dijon's new mustard became the standard.
The recipe is relatively simple -- crushed mustard seed mixed with vinegar
or lightly fermented wine plus a bit of salt and seasonings
determined by the chef's creativity.
Dijon had been on the spice trail for many years and once that
enterprise dried up, they needed to come up with a new game plan.
The strategy worked.
Gold in a jar.
For that, we need to head south -- all the way south to Marseille, where distiller Antoine Maille sold vinegar from a pump, placed literally on the street.
It was here that Monsieur Maille was credited with saving much of his city
from a terrible epidemic in 1723, a true killing machine.
The antiseptic qualities of his vinegar seemed to stop the spread
of the plague in its tracks, guaranteeing his ticket to fame & fortune.
As his popularity soared, he expanded into mustard - also selling it from the pump. Maille opened a second shop on rue St. André des Arts in Paris
where his fame grew by leaps and bounds.
Louis XV, Catherine of Russia and monarchs all over Europe became
enamored of the pleasantly pungent sauce.
It wasn't until 1821 that Antoine's son (Antoine-Claude) founded the Dijon connection and opened the first Maille boutique in that city.
Everyone loved the little earthenware jars they designed for customers to
take home, and still today, you'll find collectors who prize
these culinary relics, especially the hand-painted beauties.
You'll find a jar of Dijon mustard on nearly every table in France.
Although I was raised on "White Gloves & Party Manners", I'll admit to a bit
of unrefined table etiquette on my continental culinary adventures.
I can't stop myself from dipping into the jar for "un petit gout"
soon after being seated.
Tears (of joy and heat) rush to my eyes as soon as I get
my first taste of the zesty, addictive spread.
I love that sweet wallop.
Voodoo in a vat --- it's the taste of France.
After all, what would a steaming platter full of sausages and choucroute
be without the zap of our favorite creamy condiment?
Legend has it that the duke's friends and family consumed 70 gallons of the
cheeky condiment, the lusty diners delighting in the sassy intensity of its fire.
Mustard continued to gain a new following, not just those
interested in its culinary virtue.
Proving itself to be relatively inexpensive and reliable, mustard has been
cheered for centuries for its antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties.
The mustard plant is related to broccoli and kale -- Get the connection?
These health benefits continue to multiply with declarations
of therapeutic benefits in the treatment of everything
from migraines to appetite control and digestion.
Asthma, arthritis, high blood pressure -- the list is endless, and medicine-men since the age of Hippocrates (father of medicine) have employed its anti-bacterial,
anti-fungal, anti-inflammatory and antiseptic safeguards.
Got a health problem?
Eat some Dijon mustard!
much like they purchased their daily baguette.
For a few centimes, they would go to their local shopkeeper
to buy mustard in tiny quantities, guaranteeing it's freshness and fire.
Once Maurice Grey (of Grey-Poupon) invented the machine that automated
mustard grinding, its popularity continued to grow.
Me, I'm just in it for the taste.
Amora, Maille, Grey-Poupon, Edmund Fallot, Musette (formerly Temeraire)
are a few names you can look for -- in countless variations.
They say variety is the spice of life and from time to time, I'll try
one of the nuanced add-ins (such as tarragon or lavender) -- but for my money,
the regular full-strength basic formula is exactly what my taste buds are looking for --- and believe me, I insist on a daily dose.
Prescription Dijon Mustard = healthy, wealthy & wise.
Any other mustard -- let's face it -- just doesn't cut the mustard.
The Concorde of Condiments.