Mustard has been popular in France for at least 1500 years, at one point there was even a mustard maker to Pope John XXII (1249 – 1334) who was at that time living in Avignon giving rise to the popular expression “Se croire le premier moutardier du pape” which means “he thinks himself the Pope’s head mustard-maker” in other words, someone who thinks themselves above their station, a conceited fool!
Many regions of France have their own mustard style and there is much more to it than the bright orange condiment spread on hotdogs in the States says Linda Matthieu…
History of mustard in France
Mustard has a rich history of cosmetic and pharmaceutical uses throughout the ages, not to mention its ability to hide the flavour of less than fresh foods. For the French, mustard has been a firm favourite for centuries after likely being introduced by the Romans. In 1390, the French government issued regulations for the manufacture of mustard, decreeing that it contain nothing more than “good seed and suitable vinegar. Pope John XXII of Avignon was so fond of mustard that he created a new Vatican position – grand moutardier du pape (mustard-maker to the pope) – and promptly filled the post with his nephew, by all accounts a foolish fellow.
French Kings had their own mustard makers; according to Alexander Dumas, the great French writer, Louis XI kept his on pot of mustard with him most of the time so that he was prepared when visiting friends. Charlemagne employed monks from Beaux (a city outside of Paris) to cultivate the mustard seed and grind it for him personally. In fact, the huge round grinding stones used for this purpose were often cut out of quarries in Meaux, leading to its becoming a centre for mustard making.
When I stumbled upon a lovely little boutique for Maille mustard right across the street from the Madeleine church on the Place de la Madeleine, I had to investigate. Inside are many different flavours and colors of mustards, a little tasting area and porcelain pumps used to dispense the mustard sauce into earthenware jars for customers, they are corked to keep the mustard fresh.
The Maille story began in Marseille. A local distiller called Antoine Maille sold his own blend of vinegar in the street. There was a plague in 1723 and many believed they were saved by spraying themselves with his product which made it even more popular and increased sales. In 1747, Antoine Maille had becomes so successful he opened the first Maille shop, on Rue St Andre in Paris (no longer in existence), selling vinegar and mustard. His products attracted the attention of royalty from around the world including King Louis XV. In 1821 a shop was opened in Dijon and later on Place de la Madeleine, Paris.
Inside the boutique you will see mustards of all colors from bright green to deep orange. Some of the flavors are green pea with shallots, garlic and lemon, and orange confit with ginger. The china pumps stylishly deliver mustard into jars of different sizes and styles and you can also buy vinegar and cornichons, the famous French pickle.
You can probably find Maille mustard in your local grocery store but it won’t taste the same as when you buy it in France and you won’t be able to find the flavours they have in the French stores. There are stores in Australia, London and New York City and you can order mustard from their website but, if you are in Paris, be sure to go in and have the experience of shopping in person at 6 Place de la Madeleine.
Linda Mathieu, a native Texan, lives in France with her French husband. She was a Paris Tour Guide and is the author of Secrets of a Paris Tour Guide.
How to make Poulet Gaston Gerard, a mouth-watering dish from Dijon made with mustard