Mustard seeds that will later be ground up, then added to a mixture of salt, water, and vinegar. All photos by the author.

Burgundy's Last Independent Mustard Factory Will Make Your Eyes Water

The Maison Fallot, in the French city of Beaune, is holding on in the face of food industry giants.

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Oct 8 2018, 3:00pm

Mustard seeds that will later be ground up, then added to a mixture of salt, water, and vinegar. All photos by the author.

This article originally appeared on MUNCHIES France.

You might say the Fallot mustard factory is hidden away, tucked into the midst of a region where wine is king. The family-owned business, established in 1840 in the heart of fortified city Beaune, seems outside of its time. The buildings date from the early 20th century; neither hangar nor loading dock is to be seen. But one detects a certain smell.

The Maison Fallot as seen from its courtyard.

A few meters inside the factory, a slight but persistent odor overtakes your nose. Marc Désarménien, the factory’s boss and heir, is running a little late. “A business lunch with American customers” is running long, he explains, so my tour starts without him.

The Maison Fallot is a very particular entity. To earn recognition for its knowhow in the field, the factory lobbied for the creation of a protected landmark status in 2009—the year the factory was also remodeled. The appellation “Burgundy Mustard” came into existence, like a thumb to the nose at “Dijon Mustard.” This allowed the business all at once to distinguish itself from the competition and emphasize its “artisanal” side.

We wanted to go see this aspect of production on site. So we headed across the courtyard, ultimately arriving at two rooms. The first is marked “Labels,” the latter “Potting,”—in other words, the reverse path of the mustard itself. In an adjacent office, we don hairnets, scrubs and shoe coverings; best to be both hygienic and classy.

Upstairs, we are greeted by Patrice and Michaël, the two mustard-makers whose jobs are to weigh and assemble ingredients. Here, all the measuring is done by hand. Seeing these two, I have to wonder if their sense of smell is still intact. The odor of mustard is omnipresent—so strong it pricks my nostrils like pepper spray.

Patrice and Michaël, two mustard-makers whose jobs are to weigh and assemble ingredients.

As we discuss recipes and Patrice and Michaël fill me in on the different steps of mustard-making, Marc Désarménien finally appears. Sporting a floral-print shirt, jeans and street shoes—underneath the regulation wear, of course—he greets me with a big smile, pleased to announce that a New York grocery wants to stock his products.

To make the mustard “traditional”-style, you have to follow several steps: crush the seeds slowly with the help of a grindstone, separate them from the hull and mix the ingredients (salt, sugar, honey and vinegar). These seeds are particularly important. They keep them stocked in the Fallot attic, in a place of honor, beneath the nearly 200-year-old beams.

Mustard seed storage barrels in the Fallot factory attic.

When asked about his “method,” Marc Désarménien promptly zeroes in on the seeds. The quality of the mustard also redounds to the fact that it contains “many more dry residues” [mustard seeds—Ed.] than its competitors. “Legislation requires that the pot contain at least 22 percent and we have 33 percent,” declares Désarménien.

A view of the "machine room".
Mustard seeds in the spinner that separates from the hull—one of the key steps in preparing the product.

For the most part, Fallot buys its ingredients from local producers, where others buy mostly from abroad—particularly from Canada. “The goal is for us to only use seeds from Burgundy, by two years from now,” Désarménien explains. Obviously, this choice isn’t just pure marketing; climate influences production. Whereas Canadian seeds, for example, can be gathered after six months, French ones require six extra months before being harvested.

Detail of a machine barrel in the machine room.
Mustard inside one of the barrels that mixes up the ingredients.

Désarménien is a happy boss because the Maison Fallot is looking good in a field that has seen hard times since World War II, industrialization having drastically reduced the number of mustard-makers in France. The heavyweights of the profession are the only ones who remain. Yet today, Fallot can boast of producing 7 million pots per year. Its sales numbers are constantly progressing; this SME with 25 employees represents 7 percent of the French market. And that’s while facing off against giants like the Germans Kühne and Develey, not to mention Unilever, which owns Amora-Maille.

The mustard-potting assembly line.
Pots on a pallet wait to get boxed up.

Even if the two don’t quite fit in the same category, the story of Amora-Maille in the region reads like a fun-house mirror version of Fallot’s own story. The producers of “Dijon mustard”—the same one you see in all the supermarkets—closed their historic Dijon factory in 2009 and exported a portion of production to Poland, following several months’ negotiation with syndicates and local elected official.

The mustard-potting assembly line.

At the time, the Unilever Group invoked the lowering of condiment sale prices in France—particularly those of mustard and pickles—to justify this decision and eliminate a total of 244 jobs in Burgundy. At Amora-Maille, a portion of production takes place now at Chevigny-Saint-Sauveur, a center mostly dedicated to logistics, located a few kilometers from Dijon.

Mustard is one of those products where you can quickly run through all your options once you’ve tasted the delicate kind, the strong kind and the “old-fashioned” kind with its seeds. Novelty ultimately comes down to either packaging or quality. Fallot wanted to go just a tad further, by incorporating unexpected ingredients into their mustard—blackcurrant, peppers, and sometimes high-end stuff such as truffles, porcini mushrooms, or even more original flavors like yuzu.

Bags of mustard headed off for quality analysis.

As proof of the product’s quality, star chefs like Eric Prat, Jean-François Piège and Paul Bocuse have made Fallot their official mustard supplier. They’ve even created a particular product line in partnership with Loiseau star restaurants.

Notably, more than half the production is exported, particularly to North America. Still, the classic line, “Oh, you’re from Dijon, like the mustard”—which every new acquaintance trots out at me, and which I now know how to fob off in several languages—still has plenty of time left ahead of it.

This article originally appeared on Munchies FR.