February Madness is in full swing right now in France – a time when everything is on sale. This is the month-long Black Friday of Europe. As such, the cost of transport in and around France is at such a low (1€ per trip on some trains and buses) that I would be stupid not to take advantage of it. Therefore Morgan and I decided to profitez un peu by taking a weekend trip to Dijon.
Dijon is located in the Bourgogne region near the centre of France, close to the border with Switzerland. It was first settled during the Neolithic period, which lasted from 10,200 BC until between 4,500 and 2,000 BC. The Romans later took over the settlement and named it Divio (meaning sacred fountain). It was an important stopover between Paris and Lyon. The province of Bourgogne then became the home of the Dukes of Burgundy from the 11th to 15th centuries. The region was very wealthy in the Middle Ages due to its wine and mustard.
Most of the world knows Dijon today thanks to its namesake mustard. Although Dijon-style mustard was only created in the 1750’s, mustard has been produced in the region for centuries. The Romans started Dijon’s mustard-making tradition when they brought mustard seeds with them to the settlement. Mustard seeds are not native to this region of France. The Roman version of mustard was made from ground mustard seeds soaked in vinegar. Sometime between 1752 and 1756, a local named Jean Naigeon changed the recipe when he used verjuice (the juice from unripe grapes) instead of vinegar in the traditional mustard recipe, creating what we now know as Dijon mustard. White grapes were grown in an abundance in the region surrounding Dijon, and Naigeon did not want the unripe grapes to go to waste. Verjuice is less acidic than vinegar, which gives Dijon mustard its more mild taste.
In the Middle Ages, the seeds were, curiously enough, often ground with canon balls. Robert May, an English cook with French training, mentions this method of grinding the seeds in his book The Accomplisht Cook which he wrote in 1660: “Have good seed, pick it, and wash it in cold water, drain it, and rub it dry in a cloth very clean; then beat it in a mortar with strong wine-vinegar; and being fine beaten, strain it and keep it close covered. Or grind it in a mustard quern, or a bowl with a cannon bullet”. I guess whatever works!
Morgan and I were determined to give this famous mustard a try. So where do you go if you want to try a hundred types of mustard in one place? Why, a mustard bar of course!
We tried the Maille boutique first, and although they did have some samples to try, nothing beats the mustard bar at Edmond Fallot! There were mustards “on tap” like beers at a pub, with bread sticks and pretzels to taste them on. I sampled every one offered, and although some were not to my fancy (the black currant mustard wasn’t a great idea, and the gingerbread spice one was best described as “meh”), I did love the basil, the red pepper, and the white wine varieties. A note though about “real” Dijon mustard – all the other “Dijon” mustards from around the world have primed us to be absolute wimps about mustard. I LOVE strong flavours, but even some of the milder ones I tried had me coughing. The balsamic variety was particularly sharp, but nothing shocked Morgan and I like the honey Dijon mustard. There is NOTHING sweet about real honey Dijon mustard – nothing! It starts out mild, but then just when you thought you were safe, the mustard sneaks up on you. Morgan and I both looked wide-eyed at each other after casually taking a big bite of that breadstick.
There were many small tubs of mustard available and so Morgan and I both picked up a couple. I stuck to the traditional recipes: the original Dijon recipe, a country rustic recipe, and one with a splash of the region’s sweet Burgundian white wine. Now, what to put them on?