Saturday, January 23, 2016

Moutarde – Mustard. Mustard (Including Dijon Mustard) in French cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
Updated September 2021

Vineyard co­­vered with mustard flowers.
Photograph courtesy of RC Designer


Travel through France from April through June, and you will see fields covered in yellow flowers. As I initially did, you may think that all the yellow flowers were mustard flowers, but ask a few questions, and you quickly discover that the majority of the fields are covered with Rape Seed flowers, Colza in French. Mustard Seeds and Rape Seeds are very close family members, and their flowers look practically the same. However, today, nearly 90% of the mustard seeds used for the French production of mustard from Canada; the local mustard seeds are too expensive. The mustard seed produces mustard oil, and the rape reed produces cooking oil; sold in North America and the UK under the name Canola; rape seed oil provides about 30% of the Western world’s cooking oil.


Mustard seeds.
Photograph courtesy of Jessica Spengler

It’s time to blame the Romans again.

The earliest cookbook authors with published recipes for mustard were the Greeks and the Romans. They have left us recipes, including some that are not too different from those we use today; the Romans also gave us the name mustard. The Romans mixed newly pressed grape juice, called mustum, with spices that included mustard seeds to make mustard. This hot sauce was called mustum ardens, mustarden for short, and from mustarden came the word mustard. (Still today, in English, freshly pressed grape juice is called must). 

The Romans and Greeks loved their sauces, and while the most traditional Roman sauce was fish-based and called Garum, there were types of Garum that did include mustard. Other flavorings, including those made with varieties of mustard, were on the table when the Greeks and Romans dined. When the Romans colonized present-day Spain in 261 BCE, they quickly realized that to feel at home, they had to import a great deal from the old country. They brought trees, vegetables, grapevines, snail farming, aqueducts, roads, and recipes for sauces, including mustard. When 100 years later, the Romans colonized France, they already knew they had to bring all the requirements for a Rome away from Rome. More trees, plants, vegetables, amphitheaters, and sauces, etc.

A container from the Roman garum factory of Olisipo, Lisbon.
Photograph courtesy of Carole Raddato

Moutarde à l'Ancienne – Old-fashioned mustard.

Old-fashioned or traditional mustard recipes began with mustard grains, water, salt, and vinegar.  The flavors changed with the types and mix of mustard seeds, and the type of vinegar. Flavors would be altered for specific dishes through added herbs and honey. You may buy a jar of Moutarde à l'Ancienne today, and it will not differ greatly from the original, though it will include added preservatives.

Mustard and Dijon.

The sauce called mustard may not have been created in France; however, as early as the 8th century, Emperor Charlemagne is said to have ordered the planting of mustard seeds around monasteries in France and so we know that mustard was part of early French cuisine. A few hundred years later the city of Dijon was recognized as the go-to place for the best mustard in France and from the 14th century, Dijon and its manufacture of mustard were governed by a decree; no second rate ingredients were permitted in the mustard, that would have been a criminal act.  In 1634 the Guild of Mustard Makers of Dijon had articles of association drawn up to regulate their craft; that ensured high standards and by the way kept competitors out. Finally, in the 18th-century improvements in the milling of mustard seed were patented and the creation of the mustard known as Moutarde de Dijon, the Mustard of Dijon was well established.

Moutarde de Dijon, Dijon Mustard, is no longer made in Dijon!

Today, most diners and purchasers of “Dijon Mustard” do not realize that along with the many other different types of mustard with the name Dijon on the label no commercial quantities of mustard are made in Dijon. Over the last 70 years, economics have pushed mustard out of Dijon. Some mustards have left Dijon and almost completely left France as well, and that includes France’s famous “Grey Poupon” mustard.  Some Grey Poupon may still be made in France for the French market; however, I found none in any of the supermarkets I usually visit

How one modern Dijon mustard is made.

Dijon is the capital of Burgundy and a center for Burgundian cuisine and wines.  During a week that a colleague and I were working in Burgundy with a long weekend approaching, we decided to spend our time in Dijon. There we could enjoy Burgundy's cuisine and wines and try to find out what happened to the city’s mustard.

On our first evening in Dijon, in a small but excellent restaurant,  we found a well-informed Maitre D’ who politely listened to our questions about Dijon mustard and let us know that he spoke better English than we did French. Speaking better English than our French was not particularly difficult!. However, realizing that we were serious mustardiers, he finally introduced us to the chef. The chef, a Dijon native gave us a great deal of background to Dijon’s mustard history and made it clear that in his restaurant all the mustard is made by him.

The chef confirmed that there are no longer any large or medium-sized mustard manufacturers in Dijon anymore, just a few small family-sized artisan producers.  The nearest large-scale factory is in the wine-centric town of Beaune 48 km  (30 miles) away from Dijon.

R­­­estaurants in Dijon’s Place de la Liberation
Photograph courtesy of Dennis Jarvis

The secret of a good mustard.

The secret to good mustard depends on the freshness of the grinding. Our chef ground the mustard seeds himself, at most three or four days before he intended to use the mustard. After mixing two different mustard seeds, (the proportions he did not disclose), he adds fruit vinegar, white wine, sugar, and a little salt. He lets his creation mix its flavors in the refrigerator for a day or two, and when ready to use, he achieves the final taste he desires by adding a little more of one or more of the ingredients above. The final taste will depend on the dish the mustard will accompany. Since this chef doesn’t sell his mustard outside of his restaurant, its pale brown color was unimportant. Most industrial mustards contain the herb turmeric for its yellow color. Since turmeric adds little to the taste, this chef omits it.

Grinding mustard seeds
Photograph courtesy of JaBB

There are many commercial mustards available in France, both those made in France and those imported from partners in the European Union. However, there are still a number of traditional mustard manufacturers in France, all claiming ancient recipes, and I have included the better-known ones here.

The Alsace

Moutarde d'Alsace - A sweet mustard with honey added; this is still a spicy mustard despite the honey. This Alsatian mustard is made with mustard seeds along with Gewurztraminer vinegar and spices. Traditional Alsatian mustard nearly disappeared from the menus in local restaurants but is now back in fashion. Then and now, it is used with traditional Alsatian dishes.

Jarret de Porc Grillé au Miel de Mille Fleurs et Moutarde d'Alsace - The grilled shin or leg in the UK and the shank in the USA prepared with honey and Alsatian mustard. The name for the honey used just means honey from a thousand flowers.  (The cut called a jarret in French is the same cut used for the veal dish called Osso Buco in Italian or Jarret de Veau in French.  The same cut is used for many other dishes made with veal, beef, lamb and pork.

Rognons de Cochon à la Moutarde d'Alsace  - Pig’s kidneys braised with Alsatian mustard.


Moutarde de Bordeaux - A traditional mustard from the area of Bordeaux. Moutarde de Bordeaux may be offered to accompany your steak when you dine in a Bordeaux restaurant. Moutarde de Bordeaux is not as strong as other French mustards and its make up includes Bordeaux wine vinegar and tarragon. NB. French mustards are traditionally more robust than those in North America and milder than those in the UK.    

Le Filet Mignon de Porc à la Moutarde de Bordeaux  Gratin de Pommes de Terre A cut from a pork fillet prepared with the Bordeaux mustard and served with browned mashed potatoes. NB. A filet mignon on a French menu is usually pork, not beef. A cut from a beef fillet will usually be called a filet de bœuf

Andouillette AAAAA grillée, Sauce Moutarde de Bordeaux – Andouillette Sausages AAAAA grilled and served with Bordeaux Mustard.


Moutarde de Charroux – A traditional mustard from the village of Charroux in the department of Allier in the region of the Auvergne-Rhône-Alps.  Charroux's mustard has been reintroduced and is made in a village with less than 400 hundred inhabitants. The mustard is made with white wine and wine vinegar and is considered, by the producers, to be the traditional mustard of the Bourbonnais. (The Bourbons were the royal family behind the kings of France from 1589 until 1848 when the last French king abdicated). The single company that manufactures Moutarde de Charroux claims that their recipe was created 900 years ago by monks from the Bourbonnais region. The factory notes that their mustard seeds and their shells are manually ground, made with a unique vinegar and the St Saint-Pourçain AOC/AOP wine. The manufacturer also produces a sweeter mustard made with red grape juice. (NB The same region is famous for the Agneau Charolais du Bourbonnais, Label Rouge, the red label lambs; Charolais du Bourbonnais, the Charolais Beef; and other high-quality food products).

Moutarde de Charroux
Photograph courtesy of Allier-Auvergne-Touris

Ballottin de Volaille Farci à la Moutarde de Charroux – A ballottin of poultry will have had all the bones removed before it is cooked. Then it will be formed into a stuffed roll before braising or roasting and in this case  stuffed with Charroux mustard 

Vinaigrette de Moutarde de Charroux – A vinaigrette sauce made with the Charroux mustard.


Moutarde de Dijon – The real Dijon mustard.  The Romans brought mustard seeds to Burgundy and Dijon was strategically located along their major trade routes. By the Middle Ages, yellow mustard plants covered the fields outside Dijon from April through June.

Dijon is a city with over 150,000 inhabitants.  Nevertheless, if you are visiting, you will not notice its size.  The center of the town is walkable, and the center still has many houses from the Middle Ages.  There are now tens; if not hundreds, of French mustards using the name Dijon, though few are made in or near Dijon; some are very mild and others are scorching. There were only two traditional mustards. The old-style was a coarse-grained, mild mustard,  today mostly called in French À l'Ancienne; and the Dijon-style, a creamy, spicier mustard.  In 1937 Moutarde de Dijon was granted an AOC, which protects the way and the place where the mustard is made. Despite that 1937 honor, I failed to find any company that today makes a Moutarde de Dijon AOC.  Also, to my surprise, I discovered that over 90% of all brown mustard seeds used in French mustards are imported from Canada, how the world turns?

Choose your Moutard de Dijon.
Photograph courtesy of Patrick Blehaut
Visiting the city of Dijon

If you want to see the center of Dijon, then follow the ‘chouette,’ the little owl, that is the city of Dijon’s symbol. The owl is inset in the town center’s pavement, pointing the way to the city’s self-guided walking tour.  

Dijon’s Chouette.
Photograph courtesy of Magalita B.

The tour starts just outside the Tourism Information Center on Place Darcy, in the heart of Dijon. With the booklet from the Tourism Information Center, you will have covered the center of Dijon in just about one hour. Then you may choose the places of interest, museums, churches, etc., that you wish to visit. For more information, see the English-language website of the Dijon Tourist Information Office at:

Dijon mustard and Dijon dishes on French menus:

Le Rognon de Veau Dijonnais – Veal kidneys served with a Dijon mustard sauce.

Vinaigrette Dijonnaise Vinaigrette, the most well-known of all French sauces or salad dressings. This traditional French salad dressing is olive oil, vinegar, Dijon mustard, garlic, and herbs.


Salad with Vinaigrette Dijonnaise.
Photograph courtesy of Frances Ellen

Demi Coquelet (Poussin) à la Dijonnaise - Coquelet or Poussin – Half a 4 – 6 weeks’ old oven roasted cockerel or chicken. When menus note a demi coquelet or demi poussin that is half a minuscule cockerel (or chicken), and it may be enough for a very light lunch or an entrée, but if this is the main course, at dinner, you will leave hungry. Cockerels do not grow up to lay eggs, so it is usually the demi-coquelet on the menu.

Emincé de Quasi de Veau Dijonnaise - Slices from a veal quasi, a small tender roast from a cut from the leg, and saddle from veal (also lamb). When this is veal, it will usually be prepared as a roast and would be enough for five or six diners. This is a uniquely French cut that seems to be ignored outside France. Maybe the French-influenced parts of Canada have butchers who take the time to prepare this cut. In this menu listing, the roast is flavored with Dijon mustard.

Râble de Lapin, Crème de Moutarde de Dijon et Légumes du Soleil – The saddle, the center of the back and the meatiest part of a rabbit. Here it is served with a cream of Dijon mustard sauce accompanied by the freshest new vegetables. A rabbit's saddle is usually offered roasted and stuffed. In France, rabbits and hares are farm-raised; they are very much part of French cuisine.

Grey Poupon.

In 1860 a Dijon native named Maurice Grey created and patented a mustard shelling and grinding machine, and for that, he was awarded a Royal Appointment to the king of France. Then when Grey needed a much faster machine, he formed a partnership in 1866 with Auguste Poupon, another Dijon mustard manufacturer. Grey-Poupon  became the most successful mustard producer in Dijon. As the years passed and multi-national food producers came to France, Grey Poupon was looked upon with interest. After many ownership changes, the original Grey Poupon, with a slightly lighter recipe, is now made in the USA by Kraft, and none or practically none is made in France.


Grey Poupon
Photograph courtesy of Mike Mozart


Maille is a prominent French manufacturer, including the Amora brand. Maille produces an extensive range of products such as Dijon style mustard, vinegar,  mayonnaise, oils, pickles, spices, etc. Maille is today owned by Unilever.


Moutarde de Maille’s shop in Dijon
Photograph courtesy of Patrick Blehaut

In 2009, Maille/Unilever closed its historic factory in Dijon, and the production of mustard and pickles was transferred to a new plant in Chevigny-Saint-Sauveur in the Côte-d'Or department of Burgundy. Maille sold the Grey Poupon label in 1970, and today Kraft Foods in the USA produces Grey Poupon complete with the colors of the French flag on the lid.


Moutarde de Meaux - The mustard of Meaux is made by only one company, Briards. This unique mustard's taste is created by mixing the mustard seeds with water rather than crushing them. The company, Les Assaisonnements Briards, produces a whole range of mustards and other products, including Moutarde de Meaux® and Pommery®. The town of Meaux is even more famous for its Brie AOP cheese. Meaux is in the department of Seine-et-Marne in the Ile de France, about 40 km (25 miles) from Paris.

You can read more about the Moutarde de Meaux on Briards English Language website:



Moutarde de Meaux
Photograph courtesy of Moutarde de Meaux    

Truite Fumée sur Salade d'Ėpinards, Moutarde de Meaux et Estragon – Smoked trout served with a spinach salad accompanied by the Mustard of Meaux with added tarragon.

Côte de Veau a la Moutarde de Meaux, Fenouil et Potiron – A veal chop prepared with the Meaux Mustard and served with fennel and pumpkin.


Moutarde de Reims - A pungent mustard from the largest city in France’s Champagne-producing region. This mustard is made with brown mustard seeds, champagne vinegar, and herbs. As a bi-product of Champagne, Reims Champagne Vinegar is also available.

Filet de Lisette Mariné à la Moutarde de Reims – A young mackerel fileted and marinated in Reims mustard

Magret de Canard au Miel et à la Moutarde de Reims  Duck breast cooked in honey and the Reims mustard.


Moutarde Violette de Brive – The purple mustard of Brive. The town of Brive, correctly called Brive la Gaillarde, is in the department of Corrèze in the region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine. (On the 1-1-2016, France rearranged its administrative regions and Corrèze, then part of the region of Limousin, together with the departments of Creuse, and Haute-Vienne became part of the new region of Nouvelle-Aquitaine). According to the manufacturer, Moutarde Violette de Brive is made with few changes to its 500-year-old recipe. This mustard is made with fresh grape juice and the skin and seeds from the grape, along with mustard seeds, water, wine, and vinegar. The resulting mustard is violet without any artificial coloring (though the jar notes that it contains sulfites as a preservative). The company making this mustard has as its premises a two-hundred-year-old distillery.

Rognon de Veau à la Moutarde Violette de Brive – Veal kidneys prepared with the Violette de Brive Mustard.

Pavé de Bœuf Angus, Moutarde Violette de Brive  - A thick cut of Angus beef prepared with the Violette de Brive Mustard.


Moutarde de Normandie  - A strong mustard made with Normandy's cider vinegar.

Raviolis escargot au Port et Moutarde de Normandie – Ravioli of snails and leeks flavored with Port and Normandy mustard. 

Escalope de Saumon Rôtie, Lentilles au Lard FuméCrème Fraîche, moutarde de Normandie  A scallop of roasted salmon served on lentils prepared with smoked baconcrème fraiche and Norman Mustard.

Rosbif à la Moutarde
Photograph courtesy of Je Cuisine


Moutarde Verte - Green mustard. Usually this is a Dijon-style mustard colored with the juice of a green vegetable or herb.

Douce and Forte

On nearly every jar of commercial mustard, there will usually be one of two important words, douce or forte; douce means mild and forte means strong; remember them. There are, of course, variations of these two terms. Despite that, be careful; your idea of mild and strong may be different from the manufacturer's. It is accepted that the mildest mustard is made for North American tastes, followed by hotter mustards coming from France and the UK, leading with the hottest mustards.

Mustard as an antibacterial paste

While the Romans first planted mustard in France, the origins of most of the mustard plants were in the South and North Mediterranean. It would have been the Phoenicians, the earliest sea-based wholesalers, who brought mustard to the ancient Egyptians. The Egyptians used mustard as an antiseptic and in embalming. From Egypt, mustard would have reached India, and there it became an essential spice in many of India's different cuisines.

Later, in France, the monks realized that mustard, like honey, had a high viscosity and was naturally antibacterial. A mustard paste could be used to provide a protective cover and prevent infection on wounds. Plain mustard paste, like plain honey, does not need to be refrigerated to be stored. 

An accurate history of French mustard would require a long book. In this post, I have noted those mustards I found interesting, along with popular mass-produced mustard for comparison. I apologize to the manufacturers and artisan producers of many other French mustards that I have not had the time or space to include.

The International Gastronomic Fair in Dijon

There are no longer any special mustard exhibitions in Dijon. Nevertheless, Dijon remains on the culinary map and annually hosts the Foire Internationale et Gastronomique de Dijon. The International Gastronomic Fair of Dijon. This is one of the ten largest food exhibitions in France. It is a fair for professionals, though amateurs may visit. There are hundreds of culinary products from all over the world on show, and it is held every year over 12 days and its dates and times are on the fair's French-language website. The Bing and Google translate programs work well with this site.

Dijon and Crème de Cassis and Kir.

Dijon is also well known for its crème de cassis, or blackcurrant liqueur, so important for the aperitif Kir and Kir Royale. This aperitif is named in honor of former mayor of Dijon Canon Félix Kir, who earned his fame in the French underground in WWII. Kir is crème de cassis, the blackcurrant liquor, served with white wine; traditionally, this white wine comes from the aligoté grape. Kir Royal sees the white wine replaced by Champagne or a sparkling Cremant. Since Dijon is also famous for this black-currant liquor, a la Dijonaise may have a different meaning in certain men, so read carefully.

Kir Royale
Photograph courtesy of Alex Brown
Where do the mustard seeds come from:

Ninety percent of the world's mustard seeds are grown in Canada, including nearly all those used in French-produced mustards. Therefore, every time you dip your spoon into a jar of Dijon or Grey Poupon, you will be eating Canadian ingredients.

With thanks to Gernot Katzer and his excellent spice pages and also to Eric Schoenzetter. I use their excellent websites with permission to check the origins and uses of herbs and spices. Any mistakes left in are my own.


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Bryan G. Newman
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