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Why is French Mustard not French?

Walk into any supermarket in France and ask for a jar of ‘French’ mustard, and you will undoubtedly be met with a puzzled expression. It may surprise you to find that the one place where you are most unlikely to find ‘French’ mustard, is France.

Colmans French Mustard

Colmans French Mustard

French mustard was first introduced to the UK in 1936 by Norwich firm Colman’s. However, after parent company, Unilever, purchased rival mustard-maker Amora Maille in the year 2000, the EU ruled that the company’s market share would be too great, and the firm were ordered to stop making it. While most supermarkets in the UK still make their own version of the condiment, these days almost the only place you can purchase Colman’s French Mustard is at the Colman’s Mustard Museum and Shop in Norwich.

The thing is, in France, you are most unlikely to come across anything which even vaguely resembles Colman’s version. The nearest thing the French have is Moutarde Brune, which comes from the Bordeaux region. Even that is not very common. The most popular version of the condiment is one which is readily available in English shops, Dijon Mustard.

Unlike the brown French Mustard with which the English are familiar, Dijon mustard is dark yellow. It has a milder taste than traditional English mustard, however, it is not as sweet as the French mustard that the English seem to love.

Dijon has long been synonymous with mustard production, in fact the first known commercial mustard business was established there in the fourteenth century. The condiment grew in popularity among the working classes during the middle-ages, however it was not until the renaissance that the aristocracy become enamoured with the accompaniment.

Given that traditionally, one of the main ingredients of mustard is wine, it is hardly surprising to find that the French make an excellent range. Although in recent times improvements in manufacturing techniques has seen wine give way to vinegar, for the traditionalist, a good mustard will always be manufactured using wine.

There is an exception to every rule, of course, and in the case of mustard it comes in the form of Meaux mustard. Meaux is made from whole and crushed mustard seeds and must be made with vinegar, not wine. The coarse grain makes it a popular addition for cold meats and it is often mixed mayonnaise to add taste and texture.

It is possible that Violet mustard outdates even Dijon in age. Violet mustard was first referred to in the thirteenth century and was a particular favourite of Pope Clement VI. Manufactured in Brive from over-ripe black grapes, the mustard is almost black in colour, and it is a fabulous accompaniment for Limousine beef. It is well worth seeking out if you are in the area.

Although mustard production in France is now dominated by the major corporations, the food is so popular that in many charcuteries in France you can purchase an unusual, locally made variety, which will be as individual as the area in which you are staying. Of course, if you want traditional? French mustard, you can always go to Norwich!


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