Above: Dijon style mustard with black pepper
At its most basic making mustard involves nothing more than mixing ground mustard seeds with water. Everything I’ve ever read about making mustard desperately wants me to believe that there is nothing to it, that the possibilities are endless, that there’s no trickery or special skills involved. And that might be true if you aren’t a discerning mustard consumer who wants a very specific style of mustard and if you don’t care if the mustard you end up with burns your mouth to pulp.
My sister loves most mustards but I love just one kind. The mustard I want to be able to make is what’s commercially referred to as “Spicy Brown” which is peculiar since it is definitely not spicy. I don’t like spicy mustard. I like my mustard to be tangy.
There is a lot of confusing information out there about mustard making. For one thing, I read in an issue of Kitchen Gardener that there are three kinds of mustard seeds: yellow, brown, and black. But other sources have suggested that brown and black are the same. Then there are recipes that call for white mustard seeds which, it turns out, is another name for yellow mustard seeds.
To further complicate matters, some brown mustard seeds look nothing alike which makes me wonder how on earth mustard producers make sure they’re getting the same seeds every time. Are there named cultivars that no one is allowed to reveal to the public? Is there a giant conspiracy to prevent ordinary people from discovering how to make their own Spicy Brown mustard? Why is there not one single recipe out there for the one kind of mustard I want to make?
Another thing to be confused about when it comes to making mustard. The heat factor. If you take mustard powder and mix it with cold water and take a taste you may lose your tongue from the burning heat of it. Cold water, I’ve read, makes a hotter mustard. Hot water reduces the heat. I’ve done it both ways and both ways have resulted in 4 alarm hell-fire spicy mustard. Most sources say that letting your mustard age for 2-8 weeks at room temperature will mellow it out. So the longer you let it sit, the milder it becomes. When it hits the spice level you like you put it in the fridge to stop the mellowing process.
My sister and I followed a recipe in the only mustard making book I’ve been able to find “Gourmet Mustards“* by Helene Sawyer. We made her basic recipe for Dijon style mustard which she had us cook. That mustard turned out insanely hot. I also suspect it didn’t need to be cooked in order to thicken it. We also made her Dijon style mustard with peppercorns and her Bavarian Style mustard.
For the Bavarian Style mustard we were supposed to soak the brown mustard seeds in sherry but since that’s something I never have in my house we used some vermouth. Which actually smelled pretty good. Then we were supposed to put the seeds in a food processor and process until the brown seeds were “almost smooth” but “grainy”. This did not happen as the seeds were much too small for my blades to deal with. It’s pretty though.
The next day we opened the jars and took a whiff. The Dijon style mustard smells exactly as you expect Dijon to smell but the Bavarian style mustard has a distinctly earthy odor that isn’t my favorite. Now we wait for several weeks before tasting again.
Meanwhile – I still can’t find any recipes or instructions for making “Spicy Brown” mustard. I know it has brown mustard seeds (though it could have some yellow too and I suspect, from the tangy aspect, that it is a blend of the two), vinegar, turmeric, and “spices”. That’s all. No sugar.
Which reminds me – all of Sawyer’s mustard recipes involve some amount of sugar. This makes me suspicious that her palate and mine are very different. I do NOT want sugar in my mustard. I am not a fan of honey mustard either. Also – never put candied fruit in a condiment. Not if you want me to trust you when it comes to – well – anything.
I have a bunch of mustard seeds. I plan to experiment with mustard until I get it how I want it. And the next person who tells me that making mustard is the easiest thing in the world had better have a recipe for spicy brown or I’m going to make them eat a whole jar of my freshly made Dijon.
*Maybe the new expanded version is better than the version I have.