I must confess – until only five or six years ago I was not much of a mustard fan. In fact, I despised the look, taste, smell and texture of mustard. Growing up I knew only two; Gulden’s and French’s. Then I started cooking. I started watching cooking instructional shows and reading cookbooks not just for recipes but for the fun of reading them.
A funny thing happened. I became a food snob. Oh, yea, and I started to love gourmet mustard. Powders, seeds, and even the full on condiment.
I know Burgundy first and foremost for wine. The picturesque walled city of Beaune is unofficially the capital of Burgundy wines and it is where you find the Hospices de Beaune known for its wine auction, painted terracotta roof tiles, and home to the Beaune Altarpiece by Rogier van der Weyden. We should have known that Burgundy is also home to incredibly good gourmet mustard. After all, the region’s capital is Dijon.
Gourmet Mustard Tour at La Moutarderie Fallot in Burgundy
La Moutarderie Fallot, or the Fallot gourmet mustard mill, is located a 5 minute walk outside the Beaune city walls. Around the turn of the 19th century there were over 300 mills producing mustard in Burgundy. Today, just 4 total – 3 in Dijon and La Moutarderie Fallot remains the last in Beaune.
Mustard paste in its basic condiment form is produced with mustard seeds, vinegar, and salt. Additional spices, herbs, or flavorings are added to create a wide range of tastes. During the middle ages what separated the producers of Dijon and Beaune from others was the use of verjuice (an acidic grape juice produced from unripe grapes) instead of vinegar. The mustard paste itself is a chemical reaction. When you taste mustard seeds they will first be rather tasteless, similar to when you eat poppy seeds. Then, after a few moments as the chemical reaction between your saliva and the seeds occur, the flavors explode in your mouth.
All parts of the plant are edible – seeds, flower, stems, and leaves. There are more than 40 varieties ranging in color from pale white to dark black. Fallot uses only dark seeds in production which provide the spiciest flavor. After tasting seeds guests of the tour are presented with seeds, salt, vinegar and a mortise and pestle and invited to take a crack at making mustard! The fruits of our labors were a little dull and bitter – turns out the chemical reaction takes a few hours.
Mustard plants grow best in soil rich in potash. Burgundy woodlands would be burned to create charcoal, and the charcoal makers would plant the seeds once the ashes were cleared. Once demand for charcoal ceased it was no longer economically viable for the region to continue growing the crop. Since just prior to WWI most of the seeds are imported to France from Canada. There are however a few small plots of the mustard plant being revitalized in the region. Fallot’s Moutarde De Bourgogne is produced using only seeds from the region in an effort to keep the tradition alive.
We were impressed that being we were the only two non-French speakers on the gourmet mustard tour, the guide took the time to translate everything for us for the first half. The second half of the experience includes looking at historic equipment used in production and comes with an audio guide that instantly turns on when you are within a few inches of the equipment, and changes automatically as you move in. The tour wraps up with tasting various mustard varieties on breads, pâtés, and crudites, and they send you off with a small jar for at home.
The location also has a tasting house where you can try any of their varieties and of course make purchases. Some varieties produced by Fallot include tarragon, basil, gingerbread, currant, honey, pinot noir, truffle, and many others… all delicious! The tour is 10€ a person and must be booked in advance by calling 03 80 22 10 10, emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, or stopping by the tourist information in the center of Beaune. 31 Faubourg Bretonnière, Beaune, France.