Saturday, June 28, 2008

The Mystery of Mustard, or "Where does Dijon Mustard REALLY come from???"

Okay, so I haven't been blogging lately, because I have been visiting family in Canada. More specifically, in Saskatchewan. This is a province in Canada in a region called the Prairies, located somewhere in the middle, between the provinces of Alberta and Manitoba. Saskatchewan is a bread basket province, where grain and other foodstuffs grow in abundance, producing the raw materials that feed the city's supermarkets. From what I have heard from the locals, this vast land is home to the largest producer of canola (which makes canola oil, one of the healthiest oils after olive oil) and mustard seed in the WORLD. In fact, I heard these factoids from my sister-in-law.

Now, as a former nutritionist, I was somewhat already aware that canola is one of Canada's major food products, and I think even bottles of canola oil on supermarket shelves bears the words "Product of Canada" on them. But how about mustard?

What my sister-in-law Pat told me is that mustard seed is shipped as a raw product to various places in the world, including to France, specifically to Dijon, where they are legally allowed to make Dijon mustard. Apparently not anyone can make Dijon mustard, only Dijon can. I suppose it is an appellation controllee issue, or something akin to it.

I'm all for regulations that protect locals from making products with their own place names and people not stealing place names. For example, I am happy that tequila only comes from Mexico and Champagne only comes from Champagne. But does Dijon mustard come from Dijon? Even if they make the mustard? If 100% of the mustard seed or even if 50% of the mustard seed comes from Canada? I'm not questioning the quality of the product - I'm happy to consume Canadian products and feel they are top-notch, but are consumers a little tricked when they read "Product of France" on a bottle of Dijon mustard when really the processing and the bottling is done in France?

This opens (for me) a wider subject and that is the source of agricultural products that go into our labeled products. I know in the case of wine that when I visited Germany and went to the Friedrich Becker estate that 50% of their vineyards were in France (300 meters from their winery) but they were making German wine. That was a little strange but not too upsetting since their vineyard was literally walking distance across the border from their winery. But what about these little rumors I have heard that sometimes juice is shipped from one country to another to make wine in that second country, to have it only labeled as made in the second country?

In the case of spirits, when I was in Austria we tasted some of the eau de vies made by a great spirits distiller who took all sorts of fruit and veggies and fermented them and distilled them into fantastic and fun eau de vies. He did classic ones like pear, apple, apricots and berries, as well as very different ones such as carrot and ginger. He owned a ton of hectares of orchards where he tried to produce most of his own fruit for fermenting and distilling, but he also sourced quality fruit for some of his brews. For instance, his ginger (the young, tender ginger) was from China. But here's the thing: his eau de vies are all "Product of Austria."

Of course this is all legal, but my issue is, if the consumer begins to love a particular product, the way I think we love Dijon mustard, aren't we being somewhat fooled into thinking the mustard seed is grown in beautiful yellow fields in Burgundy? Why can't we handle the truth of it being from the fertile fields of Saskatchewan? And why must we ship loads of seed all the way over to France to turn into little pots of mustards when surely we can process that sort of thing here?


Samantha Dugan said...

Very thought provoking post and I must confess I was unaware that my beloved Dijon mustard was not grown and produced in France and you know how I do love me my fancy French mustard! Your post got me thinking of the word, "produced" which had me reaching for my trusty dictionary...
Produce-manufacture or in fact it is produced in France but all the ingredients are not French. This got me thinking even further and my husband has an "American" car, a Dodge truck but more than 45% of the parts for his "American" truck are in fact built in another country and the parts are assembled, or the truck is produced here....wonder how many of those people that "Buy American" know that?
I'm guessing there is a bunch that we don't know about the things we buy and consume. We could say that Califronia wine is grown and, "produced" here but where are the barrels from? The presses, tanks, bottles not to mention some of those wacky chemicals and machines that are so popular in some Napa Valley wineries...where are they from? I for one have no clue but I know a California wine when I taste one, just like I know mustard from France, I think the way it is produced is the biggest factor, not where the pieces came from.

Lets say you make a mean chicken soup and you always buy your chickens from "Eggbutt Farms" but one day the market is out of "Eggbutt Farms" and you pick up a "Before The Egg Farms" your soup going to suffer or might it be your loving hand, your combination of spices, layering of flavors that make up the gloriuos sum of your soup? Dunno but I think the key is finding trust in "Producers", where they buy their seed, barrels, car parts or chickens....does it matter? Is it what you have come to know and love from that matters!

Really great post that made me easy feat!

Nancy Deprez said...

Thanks for the comment Sam! :)