When my husband first tried the Moustarde au Violette at Zingerman’s nearly 12 years ago … he became an instant fan. They describe it on their website by saying:
Moustarde au violette has been eaten in French grape growing regions for centuries. It used to be made each autumn by blending freshly pressed red grape juice with just ground mustard seed. … Violet mustard is coarsely ground and crunches when you bite, like caviar. It’s naturally sweet and spicy, making it ideal for serving with meats of all sorts. In its home region of Perigord it’s a traditional side for boudin sausage cooked with apples. It also adds a flowery flush of flavor to fresh cheeses.
It’s beautiful, too … a rich purple studded with black seeds, indeed deserving its other nickname: Caviar Mustard.
Moustarde au Violette is also expensive. We buy him a jar once a year or so as a treat, since–including shipping–Zingerman’s charges a hefty $21.99 for a seven-ounce jar. That’s $3.14 an ounce … for mustard … *shaking my head* Now, I’m not cheap … but I am frugal. Someone was making it somewhere … so I knew there had to be some way to a) make it at home … b) to get 90+% of the way there on the taste/texture … and c) do it for a lot less money.
Never let it be said that I shirk from a challenge
I started out by researching violet mustard, to see if I could find a recipe for it … and I found one right off the bat. There’s apparently a recipe for it running around the web (copied by numerous content lemmings) that starts out with the traditional red grapes and two different types of wine … which they cook and strain and cook again until it’s reduced by half and starting to thicken, just like the original … but then they add pre-made dijon and whole-grain mustards to flavor it. Huh? The brief history I read of how Moustarde au Violette is made mentions nothing of short-cutting the recipe like that.
The history also gave me an idea of what spices I would need to make my own at home, confirmed by a taste of the jar from Zingerman’s. That was all it took to get me to drag out the white lab coat
I started with about six cups of seedless red grapes. The antique recipe calls for very ripe, very sweet grapes–and mine, being mid-Winter grapes from Chile–weren’t nearly that sweet. I made myself a mental note to sweeten them a bit later, but went right on with them … creating grape must.
Grape must (from the Latin for young wine) is fresh pressed juice that still contains peels, seeds, etc. I added just a bit of water to my grapes and put them over low heat to soften them up some, and then ran my immersion blender through them to liquify my must.
I continued to let it cook a bit more, hoping to bring all of the natural sweetness out of the grapes before I strained them.
I apologize for the gap in the pictures here. I got so busy experimenting that I forgot to document part of my research. Bad blogger!
Once I felt like I’d released all of the juice out of the grape solids, I took them off the heat and strained them through a dish towel, discarding the solids, measuring the juice (2.5 cups) and returning it to the same pot … that I’d washed in the interim, of course.
I tasted my warm juice, and the second it hit my tongue it confirmed for me that my suspicion was correct: my grapes weren’t sweet at all. In fact, they were pretty tart … which is NOT what I wanted/needed for my Moustard. The violet version of mustard is sweet and spicy–much like a good chutney–so that told me I was probably going to have to add some sweetener … but I wanted to get almost everything else (except the bulk of the mustard seeds) in the pot first.
First, I added my other liquids … right along with my spices: which can also affect the sweet taste of a dish. I used:
- one cup of a nice Oregon Cabernet Sauvignon
- one and a half cups of sweet port
- one and a quarter cups of malt vinegar
- a tablespoon of ground cinnamon
- two teaspoons of whole cloves
- one teaspoon ground ginger
- six tablespoons black mustard seeds (for now)
Everything went straight into the pot except the cloves and the mustard seed. Those I ground together first, then added.
I turned the pot on medium heat and let it come up to a simmer, then tasted it. Yup! Even adding in all that port … it DEFINITELY needed more sweetening!
I started with one cup of sugar: added it in, let it cook for a couple of minutes, and then tasted it again. Then I added another cup of sugar. Boy, those were sour grapes! In addition, I decided to throw in a quarter cup of chopped raisins, too … counting on their rich sweetness and grape-appeal to beef up the rather puny taste of my Winter grapes. Mental note: do this again when the local grapes are in season!
Once I brought the overall sweetness of my spiced grape base up to an acceptable level, I turned the heat down on simmer … and allowed my mixture to reduce by about one-half. I was looking for a nice thick syrup that coated my spoon evenly, which took about two hours.
In the last hour of thickening the grape base, I turned my oven on to preheat it to 350 degrees. Once it reached temperature, I spread six cups of black mustard seeds on two cookie sheets, put the cookie sheets in the oven, shut the door, and turned off the heat … letting them roast some and develop a bit of a nutty flavor before I used them.
When I felt like my grape solution was appropriately thick, I stirred in all of my mustard seeds … and then added just a bit of water to thin it to the proper consistency. I also added just a touch of blue and red food coloring to my batch–just to preserve that beautiful violet hue–since my grapes weren’t really all that strongly colored. I let it heat through for about 10 minutes, then jarred it up in regular-mouthed half-pints–leaving a 1/2-inch headspace–before running them through 20 minutes in my BWB.
Aren’t they beautiful?
Just like pickles, it takes most whole-grain mustards some time in the jar in order for them to bloom in flavor and come together properly … so we won’t know for a few weeks how this really came out. However, from the smell and the initial tastes we gave it … it may not be exactly what we get from Zingerman’s … but it’s awful tasty, and pretty doggone close for a first attempt!
It’s definitely cheaper. Even considering how expensive some of my ingredients were, I calculated that my six half-pint jars cost me approximately $4.50 a jar to make … or $0.56/oz. In comparison, a 7oz jar from Zingermans.com costs $13.00 … which works out to $1.85/oz … not counting shipping! With shipping–as I said earlier–that jacks that price up to $3.14/oz. In other words … it’s definitely worth making!
And my husband said he can hardly wait to open a jar