My Oh Maille! You’ve Made a Convert Out of Me

Mustard. It wouldn’t belong on a wine blog, unless it’s a condiment in a food and wine pairing, but after learning that this venerable mustard brand trains “Mustard Sommeliers” I felt it deserved a blog entry.

When I received the invitation from my editor to attend a mustard tasting at the recently opened Maille Boutique on 185 Columbus Avenue in New York City’s Upper West Side I was curious. I am usually excited to experience anything new and gastronomic but mustard? I have to say I wasn’t so sure.

I am not a mustard fan. When a dish calls for a condiment I usually reach for ketchup. Yes, some of you might cringe, but it’s true. Hot dogs? Some people go for mustard or relish. Me? Ketchup. Or onions in barbeque sauce. When it comes to steak there are carnivores who reach for the A-1 Steak Sauce, pour on the Bearnaise or heap on the peppercorn. For me a good cut of meat requires no sauce but if I go for one…ketchup.

I have had mustard a few times before and I’ve been disappointed. For me at least, mustard has the color of Cadmium Yellow acrylic paint. It tastes sour and fermented with an unwelcome acidic bite at the end. Some are too smooth. They feel gelatinous on the tongue. Others are excessively grainy with a texture like sand.

So I didn’t have high expectations when I walked into Maille Boutique. One of two Mustard Sommeliers gave us the background on Maille.

It’s French and has been around since 1747. It was also the official mustard at the court of French kings. Maille makes twenty-five varieties of mustard. Most are savory but there are also sweet varieties.

Sweet mustard? I was intrigued. A different mustard was paired with five different small bites. We tasted a Chablis white wine blend with spring root vegetable roulade, Chablis porcini cream and crispy garlic chip. Virtually everyone else at the table was scooping generous spoonfuls of mustard onto their bite-sized portion of food and singing its praises.

Okay. So I figured I should try the mustard. It was a mustard tasting after all. I am glad I did. The mustard was subtle and fragrant with a hint of spice. I was getting into mustard. At least the Maille varieties. My other favorite was the white wine with fine herbs blend that was paired with the comte gougeres and  fine herb mustard as well as sweet onion cream. The flavors were complex, savory and mild.

My concept of mustard had changed. The final tasting was not a mustard but a vinegar. Incidentally I am not a fan of vinegar either.

So when they announced it would be in a cocktail I was hesitant. But the tasting had been full of good surprises so far. I became optimistic. A mango vinegar was combined with vodka, Mandarin juice and mango nectar to create a cocktail that I think might give the Mimosa a run for its money as the standard brunch cocktail. Fruity, not too sweet probably thanks to the vinegar and fresh, this cocktail proved vinegar works for more than salads. I realized I had walked into Maille Boutique without ever really having tried mustard and I left knowing I will be having it time and again.

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