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What makes awesome French prepared mustard so awesome?  RSS feed

 
Dan Boone
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I probably should have posted this in the frugality forum, because I'm trying to figure out a way to do an end run around expensive France, basically.

I'll use Dijon mustard in a jar for my example. If you buy it from Walmart for a buck and a half a 12oz plastic squeezie, it tastes like sour yuck. But if you luck into a similar size jar (13oz) at Big Lots (as I recently did) for the same price, only this one is actually made in France, it tastes simply wonderful -- tangy and delicious. Ingredients are the same in each case -- water and vinegar and mustard seeds and salt. I have bought out my local Big Lots and am down to my last jar.

The difference is, the French have been making and selling Dijon mustard for centuries. I know this, but I simply can't force myself to pay six bucks for a four ounce jar (or whatever the regular retail price of real Dijon mustard from real Dijon region in France is, if you could even find it around here, which you can't).

So I'm looking for insight into what makes the French stuff so awesome, with a view toward shortcutting my way toward better mustard for less money. My theories include:

1) It's the mustard seed. There's a zillion kinds, some of them presumably only available in France. Though Wikipedia tells me they source most of their mustard seed from Canada. I can grow mustard (it does well here, though I don't know how seed is collected in bulk and suspect it requires equipment I ain't got) and I can buy mustard seed or ground mustard in bulk if it's cheaper enough and I can grind mustard seed if I hafta and I'm perfectly willing to prep my own mustard condiment from dry. But I don't have the knowledge to figure out what makes one mustard seed taste awesome and what makes another one taste like Sam Walton's wound dressings in hell.

2) It's the vinegar. They do vinegar excellently in France, as well. I doubt they're using distilled white industrial vinegar or even industrial-filtered apple cider vinegar as is prevalent here. Is it maybe wine vinegar? I can get (or theoretically make) better vinegar than whatever Sam Walton's minions are using. But again, I lack knowledge. And Google, so far, has not been helpful on the factors that distinguish awesome mustard from crap mustard.

3) It's the water. Possible but seems unlikely.

4) It's the accumulated wisdom of generations of snooty French mustard seed tasters and blenders. Very possible, but again not a factor I can work on.

So, does anybody know how to make awesome prepared mustard from bulk ingredients? Anybody got the inside scoop on the mustard masters of Dijon? Knowledge, informed speculation, wild-assed guessing, carefully-hoarded mustard-preparation links -- all are welcome.
 
R Scott
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D) all of the above.

There is alchemy involved in much of French (or Italian) excellence. But mostly attention to every detail.

You can harvest seed yourself, all you really need is a garbage bag--cut the plant, put it in the bag, knock the seed off. You can cultivate your own from wild seed--taste a seed or two from a plant and only save the ones you like.

I don't know, but I bet there is a lacto-ferment going on somewhere along the way.
 
John Polk
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Do you have a Trader Joe's near you?
They do some very good mustards without the need to put a 2nd mortgage on your house.

 
Dan Boone
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John Polk wrote:Do you have a Trader Joe's near you?
They do some very good mustards without the need to put a 2nd mortgage on your house.


Sadly it's a six hour round trip to the nearest one. I'd have to buy a LOT of mustard.
 
Dan Boone
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R Scott wrote:D) all of the above.

There is alchemy involved in much of French (or Italian) excellence. But mostly attention to every detail.

You can harvest seed yourself, all you really need is a garbage bag--cut the plant, put it in the bag, knock the seed off. You can cultivate your own from wild seed--taste a seed or two from a plant and only save the ones you like.

I don't know, but I bet there is a lacto-ferment going on somewhere along the way.


I expect you're right about the attention to detail and possibly even the lacto-ferment. I know I can't rival French Dijon mustard in my kitchen, but I do wonder whether I can't beat the lowest-common-denominator Great Value effort.

Thanks for the tip about harvesting mustard seed -- I've got a few plants that are close
 
Ann Torrence
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The basic Ball canning book has some mustard recipes if you are looking for a place to start.

I'm guessing vinegar plays a huge part. Did you know there is a single varietal apple cider vinegar made in France. That's right, one apple (Calville de blanc) fermented to cider, then fermented to vinegar. I have two CdB trees, you can bet I will be trying this.

Get thee to a fancy food shop for some vinegar options. I'd start with a French white wine vinegar. Mine sells one in a gallon jug, not precious little $20 bottles. Penzeys sells mustard seed (a couple types). You can't go wrong with tarragon if you have some. This is going to be fun.

 
R Scott
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You can get a lot of Trader Joe's food on amazon: http://www.amazon.com/s/ref=nb_sb_noss_1?url=search-alias%3Dgrocery&field-keywords=trader%20joe%27s%20mustard&sprefix=trader+joe%27s+mus%2Cgrocery&rh=i%3Agrocery%2Ck%3Atrader%20joe%27s%20mustard

Not cheap, but the cheap stuff is truly nasty.

You could buy a bottle of wine or champagne vinegar and make a LOT of mustard.
 
Dan Boone
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Learning to make good vinegar is on my list. I used to home brew so I've made bad vinegar often enough by accident -- surely the good stuff is within my reach?

But yeah. We're all thinking alike here. Source some mustard seed that tastes good and a vinegar that also tastes good. It won't be fancy French but it ought to be tasty.

Since I do not eat dairy or added oils and I avoid corn syrup where possible, a lot of condiments (especially supermarket condiments) are off my list. The result is that I eat a lot of mustard; indeed I eat a lot of cheap nasty mustard. So this seems worth pursuing.

Thanks to all for the suggestions.
 
Dan Boone
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Ann Torrence wrote: You can't go wrong with tarragon if you have some.


I have persistently managed to kill all my tarragon seedlings two years running. Getting some established is very much on my (lengthy) to-do list.
 
Leila Rich
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I've made mustard several times. I a make a really big batch and stash in small jars.
Mustard is majorly antibacterial lasts [i]forever[/] at room temperature without sterilisation.
In fact like chutney, it's significantly better after aging.

As mentioned, the trick is good definitely good ingredients.
I've tried to make mustard with the bulk seed you get for cover crops-
not a good idea as it was clearly not a good edible variety and made bitter mustard.

I've used my cider vinegar in mustard. It's fine, but a very different flavour than the Dijon style which usually uses wine vinegar and actual wine.
Good old French-why have just one kind of wine?!
Decent quality wine vinegar is fairly cheap over here though.

Make sure you note that hot water kills any mustard heat and that heat increases with soaking time.
I like hot mustard and tend to soak the seed for quite a while.
Oh yeah, don't forget to rinse the seed daily or it goes gross
 
Dan Boone
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Thank you for those tips!
 
John Elliott
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Answer: It's European.

It's hard to admit as an American, but we don't do everything best. We can mass produce great quantities of yellow goo that is labeled mustard, but the French stuff is so much better. So is the German, the Polish, the Ukrainian, the Russian, etc. And it's not just mustard. European chocolates are far better than American candy bars. And beer. And cheese. And cold cuts. And bread. And.....well, you get the idea.

Everyday that I lived in Europe was a taste adventure. Almost everything tasted better than the comparable American item. In America, there is Polish sausage and it tastes pretty much like smoked sausage. And most of the brands taste similar. Not so in Poland. Even in a small meat market, they may have a couple dozen different varieties of kiełbasa, usually labeled by the area that it is famous for that particular type. In Italy every region has its own olive oil, its own cheese, its own way of curing ham or making sausage, and that goes together to make distinct cuisines. The only thing comparable in the United States is on the East Coast, where Maryland is famous for crab cakes, Philly for its cheese steaks, New York for its pizza and Boston for its clam chowder (which is totally different from Manhattan clam chowder). But even that is going away as the fast food industry standardizes cuisine from coast to coast. I think the last holdout will be New Mexico. They are very attached to their green chile, and even a burger from Sonic tastes better in New Mexico when you get it with green chile.

I think you had the solution in your OP, look for the imported stuff at Big Lots. Since those are warehouse clearances, you can get some excellent imported food at very reasonable prices. Unfortunately, you can't count on them to have it as regular stock, so you just have to stock up when you see it.
 
Dan Boone
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Mmmm, you just brought back some awesome sense memories from 1988, in one of the last years of the Soviet Union. Grey Russian mustard on black Russian rye bread, washed down with plenty of vodka. Moscow in winter offered few pleasures in those days, but mustard and bread they had DOWN.
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