Travel

Meet Marc Désarménien, the mustard master from Burgundy

Burgundy is the home of Dijon mustard, and for the past 25 years Marc Désarménien has been spearheading a renaissance of the hot condiment in the French regionMonday, April 8, 2019

By John Malathronas

Marc Désarménien is a brave man. In a world where traditions are rapidly disappearing and artisan enterprises can struggle to survive, he’s carved a niche for the Fallot family firm in Beaune. Employing just 20 people, Edmond Fallot is the only independent manufacturer of mustard in Burgundy — the French region whose capital, Dijon, is virtually synonymous with the condiment. But, as Marc tells me: “Today, Dijon mustard is just a recipe. When the product is so famous, you can’t protect the name.”

Burgundy has been a prime mustard-producing region since the Middle Ages. According to Marc, this is largely because its soil is suited to the cultivation of two key ingredients — mustard seeds and the grapes used for vinegar. The producers of Dijon originally used verjus (the acidic juice of unripe grapes) and later white wine, which lacks vinegar’s pungency and renders the mustard more mellow. These two ingredients, along with cider vinegar, are the only acidic agents permittable under strict manufacturing laws that came into effect in France in 1937 and in 1980 elsewhere in the EU. Anyone wishing to add the ‘Dijon’ prefix to their mustard must follow these guidelines.

First established in 1840, around 30 miles south of Dijon, La Moutarderie Fallot was acquired in 1928 by Edmond Fallot, Marc’s maternal grandfather, and has been a family business ever since. “Our house was close to the factory, which was my childhood playground,” he tells me. “I enjoyed the atmosphere, the work, the people. Following in the footsteps of my father and grandfather came naturally.”

Marc became manager in 1994, and, since then has been instrumental in restoring mustardy pride to Burgundy. “Dijon mustard was a casualty of the Second World War,” he explains. “Farmers switched from mustard seeds to rapeseed to feed Europe’s hungry population with vegetable oil. Seeds for European mustards were largely imported from Canada.” Thankfully, that all changed in the 1990s, when revisions to EU farming subsidies made it more commercially viable to grow mustard.

As a result of increased production, moutarde de Bourgogne (Bergundy mustard) gained protected geographical indication (PGI) status in 2009. Made from locally grown seeds and regional aligoté white wine, crushed together into a thick paste using millstones, it offers a true taste of Burgundy.

Where to try it
The Fallot factory in Beaune runs two tours — one focusing on the history of mustard production at the site, the other offering a chance to see the condiment being made. Both offer tastings and a chance to buy mustards from the Fallot range, flavoured, variously, with cassis, tarragon, green peppercorns, honey, basil, walnuts and more. These are also available at its boutique shop in Dijon and in upmarket Parisian department stores such as Le Bon Marché, Galeries Lafayette and Printemps. Closer to home, both Fortnum & Mason and Harrods often stock them, or they can be ordered online — along with other Burgundian delicacies.

In your pantry

Maille
Established in 1747, Maille has been supplying Europe’s royal houses with mustard for centuries. Today, it’s part of Unilever and its historic Dijon factory closed in 2009. On the upside, there are dedicated Maille shops worldwide, including one in London’s Piccadilly Arcade.

Reine de Dijon
Another local stalwart, ‘Queen of Dijon’ dates back to 1840 and is at least still produced in the area, despite having been acquired by Develey, a Bavarian food company. Its Dijon brand closely follows the traditional recipe.

Kühne
As if to underscore the fact that the Dijon name is now generic, Kühne’s ‘Dijon-style’ mustard (‘made according to a traditional recipe from Dijon’) is a good, inexpensive mustard produced by another German conglomerate, based in Hamburg.

Grey Poupon
Grey Poupon is the one you’re most likely to find in British supermarkets. Although owned by US giant Kraft, the version sold in Europe is made in France, as a quick glance at the jar will confirm.

 

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