Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Marvellous mustard

Australia's got great food these days but there's some things I miss from France: proper crusty traditional baguettes (though our own home-madebread is pretty excellent, a proper baguette is hard to make at home); really tasty creamy butter; really good charcuterie--from air-dried saucisson sec to gorgeous peppery Toulouse sausage to a range of pates and terrines that are cheap but delicious; wonderful patisserie cakes(I never get tempted by cakes in Australian bakeries); and a bewildering range of cheeses. And mustard. OK, you say, but there's mustard here, and yeah, sure, there is. There's 'French' 'German' 'American' 'English' mustard, all rather perfunctory versions of each country's traditional style. There's even Maille's lovely classic Dijon mustard(which we buy all the time.) and even sometimes their wholegrain mustard. But even in such hallowed palaces of food as the David Jones food hall, there's nowhere near the range you get in any ordinary French supermarket. For in France, the mustard is no mere humble condiment, but a star in its own right. Not only do the brands compete, but the styles. They're nearly all from Dijon, mustard capital of the universe, and nearly all very long lasting firms(eg Maille from 1747, Edmond Fallon also from the 18th century.) But they all have different styles, a different feel. Edmond Fallon mustards, for instance, are much more peppery and harsh(to my taste)than the smooth, creamy-winey Mailles. And they feature an extraordinary range of flavours and of ingredients ranging from herbs and spices to fruit, nuts and mushrooms. Nowhere is the ultra refinement of French culture more exemplified than in this amazing list of mustards.
Just in the Maille range, there's my personal favourite, Estragon(tarragon). There's the beautiful Cassis(Blackcurrant); Basilic et parmesan(basil and parmesan)Citron et Harissa(Lemon and harissa spices; Chablis et Morilles(white Chablis wine and morille mushrooms); even Noisettes et Trompettes de la Mort(Hazelnuts and Death trumpets, also a kind of mushroom--and non toxic in small doses, despite the name!)There's mustard with cognac and mustard with blue cheese; with gingerbread and honey, with pears, with chestnuts, with champagne; with figs and coriander, with Thai spices and mango and lots lots more. Of course these aren't all available in supermarkets, but you get at least a good selection, and as to going to one of the specialist stores, well, there you're in mustard heaven! (Have a look at

I use mustard in all sorts of ways. Always in vinaigrette(with a Dijon mustard added to virgin olive oil and good vinegar, and well-shaken together in a jar, you don't need any salt). Always with cold meats, with grilled pork sausage and black puddings and home-made hamburgers. A bit of mustard with bacon is delicious too, and with boiled egg, and it's beautiful on steak. I use it in lots of different sauces, its aromatic tang going well with lemon, sour cream, white wine, cream, tarragon, sage and egg yolk, but also with the less obvious anchovy, garlic, red wine, onion, and pickled herrings. Added to vegetable stocks, it also lifts the taste, and it's a must with rabbit and all sorts of game(great on kangaroo steak and with venison, for instance). In fact it's just marvellous and I don't know what I'd do without it!

We did try to grow it one year but it didn't really work out. But it's fair to say we didn't really try very hard. It was not only difficult getting enough mustard seed to supply more than one jar, but the whole process of turning it into an edible product was much more fiddly than it appeared. Maybe this is the year we should try again instead of sighing nostalgically over the Maille website with its tantalising displays!

1 comment:

  1. Que Maille qui m'aille! I missed it, too, until I started being able to find it here in the US. The best deal used to be a mega giant pot of it at Williams Sonoma for $8. Sadly, they stopped carrying it, so I have to make do with tiny pots for $3.50 at the supermarket. But still, I'm grateful that it's available at all.