Yellow mustard is a summertime condiment, made to squiggle on hot dogs and blend into cold potato salad. But mostarda belongs to winter.
Despite the similar-sounding names, Italian mostarda isn’t linguistically linked to mustard (which is known as senape in Italy.) Rather, it’s named after the grape must that’s central to its traditional preparation. To make mostarda, cooks simmer bits of fresh or dried fruit in sugar water or must. The fruit is removed from the sticky liquid before mustard oil is added to the mix.
The sour-sweet condiment has appeared alongside boiled meat since the Middle Ages, but it’s now most commonly encountered on charcuterie and cheese plates. Culture, a cheese magazine, last year listed robiola with melon mostarda, Parmigiano-Reggiano with pear mostarda and gorgonzola with fig mostarda among popular pairings.
In the U.S., mostarda is typically made with mustard seed and vinegar instead of mustard oil. That’s because the potent oil isn’t approved for human consumption (Indian mustard oil, which has lower levels of skin-irritating allyl isothiocyanate, is sold as massage oil, although some studies caution against using it on children.) Even in Italy, mustard oil is only available in pharmacies, where professionals dispense it by the drop.
“Some chefs don’t understand the mustard oil,” Cremona native Massimo Capra told Maclean’s, alluding to some chefs’ tendency to overcompensate for the banned ingredient with too much mustard seed. “It’s super powerful but not greasy. It’s really an essence.”
Cannon Green (Cheese plate with fig mostarda, honeycomb and apple butter, $16)
Where to buy it
Jarred mostarda is available from most gourmet grocers, and from online Italian food retailers, such as eataly.com.
Mostardas made from a wide range of fruits figure into local dishes, including the brassica plate at Indaco, finished with cranberry mostarda, and Mosaic’s ham sandwich, topped with cranberry butternut squash mostarda. Husk has previously served a pumpkin turnip apple mostarda, and Chez Nous last year put a dollop of cherry fig mostarda on its rice pudding.