Pardon me, do you have any good French condiments?
The area around the French region of Dijon is famous for its mustard bushes. But unlike Bordeaux and other wine growing regions, Dijon doesn’t regulate use of the name. Now the word Dijon is all over the famous yellow condiment, on jars that are made in France, some that are made here by Frenchmen, and some that are made in California.
The mustard contains black or brown mustard seeds that have been husked, which gives them a soft color. The mixture can also include vinegar, water, and spices. At only five calories per teaspoon, mustard is an excellent condiment for those watching waistlines, and a great addition to leftover cold meats.
We tasted six brands. Among us, two are very familiar with Dijon mustard – one taster is a native French person and another had lived in France for several years. Mustards were served with plain crackers and club soda.
Unlike many other products tasted in this column, the mustards contain nothing artificial. Some brands are made with white wine, others with sugar. Thickeners such as fruit pectin, mustard flour, and guar gum are on some ingredient lists. Vinegar, not mustard seed, is the first ingredient on some jars, which could account for the puckered mouths in the group.
Two brands had won a top award at the annual Napa Valley Mustard Festival – Grey Poupon in 2005 and Maille in 2007. Our crew gave the nod to Maille; they didn’t like Grey Poupon quite as much. Maille’s label boasts “260 years of expertise.” The winning texture was described as creamy, rich, smooth, and velvety. Grey Poupon, a company started by two men (named Grey and Poupon), is now owned by Kraft and manufactured in the United States.
All the labels except Annie’s list “spices” as an ingredient, without getting specific. Annie’s lists cloves, which was immediately detected (unwelcome, too).
When the tasting was over, our host brought out her favorite mustard, a jar of Dijon made by Amora (not readily available on retail shelves; go to amazon.com). The texture is mousse-like, the taste smooth but vinegary. As it happens, Amora bought Maille and then both were acquired by Unilever. Jean-Louis’
$6.99 for 11.8 ounces
A local brand, the thinnest of the group, manufactured at the Nuestra Community Kitchen in Jamaica Plain by French native Jean-Louis Eck. It garnered three “least favorite” votes and one favorite. In small type on the bottom of the label, it says “with local honey.” The sweetness was noted by tasters but not identified. It was the heat that several took notice of: “A potent very strong-flavored, smooth-textured mustard. Brings tears to the eye and a tickle-cough to the throat. Too intense to the taste buds.” “The first taste is sweet and after, a very hot taste spreads around the mouth.”
Maille Dijon Originale Traditional Dijon Mustard Winner
$3.79 for 7.5 ounces
Maille has been in the mustard business since 1747. What we tasted is a product of Canada manufactured for Maille, whose headquarters are in Dijon. It was chosen best or second-best by many. The texture was the big attraction, described as “smooth and comfortable.” “Creamy, rich texture, velvety taste.” “Smooth, salty, not too hot.” “Predominant flavor is salt. Golden color.” Others loved the color and the heat: “Great color, spicy taste.”
Grey Poupon Dijon Mustard
$2.99 for 8 ounces
This may be one of the first Dijon-style mustards Americans were introduced to. In an old commercial, you see a scene of a formal dinner party. One guest asks in a snooty tone, “Would someone please pass the Grey Poupon?” A butler appears with the jar on a silver platter. “Love the smell. Hits the nostrils and good color.” “The taste is very hot but I like the mouth feel. It must be good for sausages.” “A light pale yellow that packs a punch.” One taster said it has a “light buttery look and no aroma.” And this: “Strong enough but sweet after-taste – too bad.”
Whole Foods 365 Organic Dijon Mustard
$1.59 for 8 ounces
This is another watery mustard; it could use a little color therapy. “Is this a mustard? The color is gross.” “Has a grayer and more granular appearance and a bit of a vinegar smell. Milder taste. Not as biting.” “Tan in color but the taste is not bland – it’s quite spicy and would be welcomed on my sandwich.” “Light taste and less character. A little hot, but comfortable.” “Has a sweet, sour-pickle taste. Almost a [German-style] Dusseldorf.” That taster voted it her least favorite.
Annie’s Naturals Organic Dijon Mustard
$3.59 for 9 ounces
This brand is a very dull yellow – almost as though someone added a little black to the paint pot and didn’t do a good job of mixing it up. Many tasters were very put off by the color. “Too dark to be appealing.” “Bad color, bad taste, not a mustard!” “Looks green and beige. A darker gray granular appearance and milder pleasant flavor.” “Brown and bold, but too much vinegar.” And then there was the spice: “Am I hallucinating or is there clove in here?” (There is.) “Almost no smell. The taste is very salty and sour.”
Roche Bros. Dijon Mustard
$1.59 for 12 ounces
This plastic bottle, which is larger than the others, is least expensive. It’s also the most watery. Comments were all over the place. It was a favorite for one taster, but three found it bitter. “Pale in color.” A smooth textured mustard that has a sharp, bitter bite to it.” “I don’t like the smell or the bitter taste, which sticks to the tongue.” “Rather bland with a bitter under taste. Needs more texture.” Another liked the “smell but not the taste.” “Too sweet, too green, bad aft