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FOOD & DRINK

‘Confident for Christmas’ – How France plans to tackle mustard shortages

France's favourite condiment, Dijon mustard, is hard to find these days, with signs on supermarket shelves warning the lucky few who spot jars that they can only take one home.

'Confident for Christmas' - How France plans to tackle mustard shortages
Mustard has been in short supply in France in 2022. Photo by JEFF PACHOUD / AFP

A heatwave across the ocean in Canada, the world’s top mustard seed producer, is to blame for the drastic shortage that has dragged on for months in France.

Canada supplies around 80 percent of the mustard seeds used by French makers of the spicy condiment, the rest coming mostly from Burgundy, the region that surrounds Dijon.

But a drought slashed the Canadian harvest by half in 2021.

Now French mustard makers are aiming to boost production at home in Burgundy.

“It’s very important to increase that share so we can face weather risks that differ from one country to the other,” Luc Vandermaesen, president of the Burgundy Mustard Association, an industry group, told AFP.

“We can’t put all our eggs in one basket,” said Vandermaesen, who is also the chief executive of France’s third biggest mustard maker, Reine de Dijon (Queen of Dijon).

The Dijon region has been famous for its mustard seeds since the Middle Ages, but production has been decimated by pests as chemicals used to kill them have been banned.

Output was divided by three between 2017 and 2021, falling from 12,000 tonnes to 4,000 tonnes.

In June, local producers were urged to more than double the area planted with mustard seeds to 10,000 hectares.

“The Canadian problems revived the importance of the Burgundy sector,” said Fabrice Genin, president of the Association of Mustard Seeds Producers of Burgundy.

As an incentive, mustard makers agreed to pay €2,000 per tonne for Burgundy seeds in 2023, up from €1,300 last year and more than double what they paid in 2021.

The appeal appears to have worked, with 10,000 hectares planned for mustard seeds, said Jerome Gervais, a mustard expert at the chamber of agriculture in Burgundy’s Cote d’Or department.

The number of seed producers jumped from 160 to more than 500, he added.

“It’s more than hoped,” Gervais said.

Francois Detain, a farmer in Agencourt, gave up mustard seed production in 2019 after his fields were wrecked by a dry spring and an insect infestation.

But the price offered for mustard seeds allowed him to bring them back, even though Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has made fertilisers more expensive.

A drop in the prices of grains and oilseeds has also made mustard seeds more attractive.

“It’s sort of a revenge for us to be able to replant a local crop,” Detain said.

Shipping costs – which have soared due to supply chain bottlenecks since Covid pandemic lockdowns were lifted – have also given an edge to Burgundy seeds over those from Canada.

By next year, Burgundy should be producing 15,000 tonnes of mustard seeds, meeting 40 percent of the needs of mustard makers, Gervais said.

“(Store) shelves should be replenished in October,” Vandermaesen said.

“The shortage will be completely over in early 2023. We are very confident for Christmas.”

Member comments

  1. Now if we could only resolve the mystery of Monoprix and MonoP being COMPLETELY out of aluminum foil in Saint-Etienne… 🙂

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FOOD & DRINK

What does the AOP/AOC label on French food and wine mean – and are these products better?

If you're shopping in France it's highly likely that you will see food and drinks that proudly declare their AOP or AOC status - but are these products actually better than the rest?

What does the AOP/AOC label on French food and wine mean - and are these products better?

The French take their food very seriously – a country has to when its gastronomy and baguettes are both listed on Unesco’s intangible cultural heritage lists.

Yes, France is a fast food fountain with an insatiable appetite for burgers and pizza – but it is also justifiably proud of its own traditional cuisine, from boeuf bourguignon to cassoulet – and has put a legal premium on restaurants serving ‘homemade’ food.

That pride extends to food production, with farmers and artisan manufacturers fearlessly defending their techniques – taking their disputes to court in many cases.

READ ALSO French court rules on the appearance of striped cheese

The French developed a labelling system that meant consumers could buy certain agricultural products – from vegetables to cheeses and wines – safe in the knowledge that its production and processing have been carried out in a particular geographical area (the terroir) and using recognised and traditional know-how.

This is the Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC).

The designation can indicate a particular geographical area, or that the producer has followed the traditional technique or both.

Under French law, it is illegal to manufacture and sell a product under one of the AOC-controlled indications if it does not comply with the criteria of that AOC. In order to make them recognisable, all AOC products carry a seal, with a number as well as the name of the certifying body. The colour of the seal indicates the product classification: green for field products and red for dairy products.

The origins of AOC labelling date to 1411, when the production of blue Roquefort cheese was regulated by parliamentary decree. 

On August 1st, 1905, AOC rules were introduced for wine – and, in 1919, the Law for the Protection of the Place of Origin was passed which specified the region, right down in some cases to the commune in which a given product had to be manufactured to bear its name. 

As well as wines and cheeses, AOC status has been awarded to Poulet de Bresse, and salt marsh lamb raised in the Baie de Somme; Haute-Provence Lavender Essential Oil; lentils from Le Puy-en-Velay; Corsican honey; butter from Charente, Charente-Maritime, Vienne, Deux-Sèvres and Vendée; and certain spirits.

And these classifications are taken seriously – during the summer of 2022 several cheese producers had to temporarily stop using their AOC/AOP labels because the classification specified that the cheese was made with milk from grass-fed cows and their cows were being fed on hay because of the drought.

The European Union operates a similar geographical protection system that recognises products that are the “result of a unique combination of human and environmental factors that are characteristic of a given territory”.

This is the more common Appellation d’Origine Protégée (AOP).

The difference? Scale. The two labels are fundamentally the same. Just the former is French and older, while the latter European. 

Most products with AOC designation also have AOP protection under EU law, so they use AOP. However, certain wines with AOP status can still use the French AOC designation, and many use both.

So are AOP/AOC products better than non-AOP ones?

Neither of these labels are a quality mark, they refer only to how and where the product is made or grown, so there is nothing intrinsically better about an AOC/AOP cheese, lentil or wine.

However, the marks tend to go to the smaller, artisan producers who take great pride in their products, so in reality many of the AOC/AOP products are the better ones.

Producers of Camembert have fought a decade-long battle over labelling that pitted the AOP camembert producers (whose product must be made with unpasturised milk, at least 50 percent of which is produced by cows that have been grazing on Normandy grass) against the big factory producers who have no such constraints. 

While both are camembert, the AOP producers will tell you (at some length, if you let them) that theirs is an infinitely superior product. 

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