All you need to know about Dijon mustard!

What comes to mind instantly when you think of Burgundy (or Bourgogne)? For a wine oenophile (a lover rather than a connoisseur) like me, it’s the rich red wine of Burgundy, of course! But did you know that in Burgundy, mustard is grown as a cover crop beneath the rows of vines, providing nutrients to the vines when it is ploughed under?

By the 1200s, Dijon, the capital of Burgundy, was recognized as a significant area for mustard-making. But it really grew in popularity some 500 years later, when Jean Naigeaon tweaked the formula by replacing the vinegar with ”verjus”, a juice made from young or not-quite-ripe grapes. This tart liquid gives the Dijon mustard its characteristic flavor.

Dijon mustard is a pale yellow in colour, as opposed to the American mustard which is bright yellow, and more intense and nose-tingling. It has a tangy, sharp taste and has a strong flavor with a bit of spice. The most famous brand, Grey-Poupon was created in 1866 by Maurice Grey (along with his financial backer Auguste Poupon) with a recipe including white wine from Burgundy – Chablis or Bourgogne blanc.

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What’s interesting to note is that at one time, any product called Dijon mustard had to be made in or around Dijon – a protected “designation-of-origin” as it is with Champagne. Mustard produced elsewhere had to be called Dijon-style mustard or dijon mustard with a lower-case D. Today, it is a generic term – any mustard using the basic Dijon recipe can be called Dijon mustard.

Dijon mustard can be used as a condiment or spread, or as a base ingredient for sauces and vinaigrettes and salad dressings, transforming them into an elegant chef’s delight. French-inspired dishes that feature Dijon mustard are referred to as “a la Dijonnaise”. Dijon mustard adds a lot of flavor to food, and if you substitute it for mayonnaise, you’ve cut the calories (always a plus point with the ladies!), with the additional benefit of zinging up the taste – whisk, stir, spread, or dollop a bit of Dijon magic in your dishes! This mustard can really make you feel like a genius in the kitchen once you know how to harness its power to make a big impact on nearly all your continental cooking.

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You can even make your own Dijon mustard – it’s fairly simple, even for a culinary-challenged person like me. Grind up brown/black mustard seeds which you’ve soaked for 24 hours and puree them with white wine, vinegar and salt – et voila! You’ve made yourself some Dijon mustard! But you need to refrigerate it for 24 hours before using it! If you want to be still more authentic, see if you can get your hands on some verjus – if not, vinegar is a fine substitute.
But, if you’re like me, you will fly to Dijon, maybe during the International and Gastronomic Fair held every autumn? After all, the historic centre of the city has been registered as a UNESCO World Heritage Site - gaze on Dijon architecture, which is characterized by the “toits bourguignons” or Burgundian polychrome roofs made of tiles glazed in terracotta, green, yellow and black and arranged in striking geometric patterns.

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Maybe you can sample some of the fine Bourgogne wines, Grand Cru if the wallet permits – the road from Santenay to Dijon is known as the “route des Grands Crus”, where eight of the world’s top 10 most expensive wines are produced.

If you have the time to spare, after you’re done with your wine-tasting, you can go mustard-tasting! La Moutarderie Edmond Fallot on the Rue de la Chouette hosts free mustard tastings – just wander into the store where you can see historic mustard milling equipment and then move on to the mustard pots which you can dispense onto small wooden tasting forks. Aside from the usual honey mustard, you can sample the mustard with the “pain d’epice” which is a kind of gingerbread produced in the city. If you’re like me, always looking for unusual souvenirs to give as gifts, you can buy an assortment of tiny 25 gm pots for a euro each in various flavours – do try the Moutarde de Dijon au Cassis as both mustard and blackcurrant are synonymous with the region!

If you’re pressed for time, dart into one of the specialist shops which sell exotic or unusually-flavoured mustard, even fruit-flavoured, often sold in decorative hand-made china pots or “faiences” - you can’t get more authentic than that!