PARIS. Mustard is deeply rooted in French culture. “My blood boils” in French translates to “la moutarde me monte au nez,” or “mustard rises up my nose,” and, as Bastille Day attests, when it happens in France, the effect can be devastating. .
On Thursday, as France marked its most important national holiday, commemorating the 1789 storming of the Bastille prison that sparked the French Revolution, the mysterious disappearance of mustard from supermarket shelves sparked, if not an uprising, then at least deep concern.
Deprived of the seasoning that gives the sharpness of the steak fries, the life of the grilled sausage, the depth of the vinaigrette and the richness of the mayonnaise, France is looking for alternatives in quiet desperation. Contenders were horseradish, wasabi, Worcestershire sauce and even Roquefort or shallot creams.
Poor rivals, I must say. The problem is that Dijon mustard is as irreplaceable as it is irreplaceable. Butter or cream of unique quality may be more important to French cuisine, but many unctuous sauces become tasteless without mustard. In Lyon, the idea of an offal sausage or an andouette without mustard sauce is as unthinkable as cheese without wine.
It turns out that another problem is that Dijon mustard is made up mostly of ingredients that do not come from this beautiful capital of Burgundy. BUT the perfect climate change stormthe european war, Covid supply issues and rising prices have left french growers short of the brown seeds they use to make their mustard, mustard.
Most of these brown seeds — at least 80 percent of them, according to Luc Vandermasen, director of major mustard producer Reine de Dijon and president of the Burgundy Mustard Association — come from Canada. A heatwave over Alberta and Saskatchewan that scientists believe could be “almost impossible“Without global warming, seed production fell by 50 percent last year, while rising temperatures hit the smaller Burgundy crop hard.
“The main problem is climate change, and the result of that is shortages,” he said. Vandermaesen said in an interview. “We are unable to respond to the orders we are receiving and retail prices have risen by as much as 25 percent, reflecting skyrocketing seed prices.”
His company now receives at least 50 calls a day from people looking for mustard. Before the disappearance of mustard, there were no such calls. People even come to the company’s headquarters in Dijon (it’s not a retail store) in a frantic search for mustard. Carrefour, a leading French and international hypermarket chain, has been forced to refute rumors on Twitter that it is stockpiling mustard to drive up prices. Chefs like Pierre Grandirard of Brittany have turned to online appeals for any extra mustard one might have.
In most stores, the mustard shelves are already empty. Where there is mustard, some signs say the sale is “limited to one can per person”. Intermarché, the retailer, apologizing for the inconvenience, explains on another sign attached to the shelf that “the drought in Canada” and “Ukraine’s conflict with Russia” have led to mustard “poverty,” as the French call it.
For the French, who pride themselves on their mustard, the idea that it is rarely a completely local product and more often dependent on a multinational supply chain disrupted by the pandemic also came as a shock.
The war in Ukraine further complicated the situation. Both Russia and Ukraine are major producers of mustard seeds, but generally not brown seeds or Brassica Juncea, used in classic Dijon mustard. The mostly yellow seeds, produced in the two warring countries, are popular in countries including Germany and Hungary that prefer a milder seasoning.
As yellow mustard seeds fell victim to the war, prompting countries dependent on them to look for other varieties of mustard, “the pressure on the mustard market as a whole has increased, driving up prices,” Mr. Vandermeisen said.
France consumes about 2.2 pounds of mustard per person per year, making it the world’s largest consumer. While there are signs of mustard shortages in other countries, including Germany, the mustard crisis in France is unique in its magnitude, in part because France is so dependent on Canada for seeds.
In a crisis, of course, there is an opportunity. Paul-Olivier Claudpierre, co-owner of Martin-Pouret, a purveyor of all-French mustard and vinegar, told the daily Le Monde that the time had come to “re-localize production.”
“We’re growing thousands of miles of seeds that we’re going to harvest, ship to port, ship across the ocean in containers to transform into homes,” he said. “It costs a lot, and what a big carbon detriment!”
mr. Vandermaesen said that Burgundy had made a concerted effort to increase production, even if it could not match the “very large production areas in Alberta and Saskatchewan”. One of the problems that Burgundy growers face is that the European Union has banned an insecticide long used to control black flea lice, a scourge.
In the meantime, it looks like France must learn to live without mustard, a painful adaptation. It is known that Marie Antoinette, Queen of France during the revolution, said: “Let them eat cakes” when she was told about the peasants starving without bread. (Whether she actually did this before she was guillotined in 1793 is another matter.)
“Let them eat wasabi” is a phrase President Emmanuel Macron should probably avoid.