The Mustard Festival
The tangle of yellow flowers beside me is a small sample of the mustard plants that carpet the vineyards of Napa Valley each spring. Locals revel in the riot of color with “The Mustard Festival,” an event I attended for a full-blown taste of mustard today.
Just because people have been making mustard for more than 20,000 years doesn’t mean it has lost its edge. As part of the cabbage family, mustard plants still have nose-clearing doses of sulphur compounds. Once the seeds are ground and the compounds explode with flavor, the condiment almost always gets a shot of vinegar, another zinger of an ingredient, which actually stops the seeds from turning incendiary. Sometimes the seed-and-vinegar combination is tamed with pacifiers like water, sugar, and herbs, but personally I like the strong stuff, as in Dijon mustard. This is the real deal, mixed in a pure style made famous in the 1800s by Maurice Grey, his steam-driven mustard mill, and a financier named Poupon.
The Mustard Festival celebrates every category of mustard. I got a chance to taste black mustard with hot-chili oil from China (too strong even for me!) as well as a few new entrants in the long-running race for hipper mustard. How does Pomegranate Mustard with Garlic sound to you? What about Apple Mustard with Cinnamon? They taste pretty much as you would expect. Fortunately there were plenty of superb mustards served with platters of brats, burgers, and barbecued hams. Add barrels of Napa Valley wine and you have an event that definitely cuts the …. Oh, sorry, I couldn’t resist.
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