When Marc Desermainion’s “Maison Fallot” mustard boutique in Dijon opens at 10 a.m. every day, 10 to 15 people are already queuing outside, hoping to get their hands on this luxurious condiment.
“I don’t think we’ve ever seen anything like it!” Désarménien exclaims. Their family business has been producing authentic French mustard for generations.
“My grandfather lived through two world wars and after the war, when there were ration tickets in France, but there was mustard! Now you go to Lille, Marseille, Bordeaux or Strasbourg, nobody has any mustard left. Everything is sold in a few hours.”
Impact of climate change
Conspiracy theories have flooded social media, with some suggesting the disappearance of mustard is a ploy to drive up supermarket prices and that stacks of the pot are being hidden in warehouses. But the real reason for France’s mustard shortage extends beyond the country’s borders.
Although French mustard is labeled Dijon or Rimes, most of the seeds it is made from are grown in Canada where they are much cheaper. But Atlantic mustard seeds have recently succumbed to the effects of climate change.
War in Europe
With these extreme weather conditions affecting Canadian exports, France is looking to other exporters for these seeds. That list includes Russia and Ukraine, but with restrictions on Russian exports and the ongoing war in Ukraine, there is no visible solution in the near future.
“The southern part of Ukraine was the strongest in terms of mustard cultivation. In the west it is very rare. Some farmers cultivate” he says, “but it is not enough for potential buyers in Europe. They want more and they want consistency. Quality.”
Matseplik fears that Russian traders in the south have stolen the seeds and sold them at low prices. It is therefore unlikely that Ukraine will be able to export mustard unless these areas are liberated.
Silver line, silver line
This shortage of mustard does not suit everyone. In fact, local French producers who are not dependent on foreign exports are overwhelmed by the current demand and their businesses are booming.
Ghislain Durand, a mustard grower in the southern French town of Castelnaudary, usually takes time off in July to enjoy summer. But the demand this year is too good, let this opportunity pass.
“I need to continue working through this mustard shortage, because I have got an unexpected order surplus and I need to make the most of the situation,” he says. “It’s been very profitable for my business, I must admit. For the last four months, the growth has been so violent and rapid that it’s hard to keep up.” In fact, Durand’s profits have multiplied by four.
At the tourist shop where Durand was selling his mustard, people would buy a jar or two to take home. “Now, they caught about ten!” Durand says. “They see mustard and throw it on themselves.”
With Canada’s Ministry of Agriculture predicting good yields for the coming harvest season, things may return to normal next year. Meanwhile, those who can’t get their hands on the prized dishes from local producers are turning to alternatives in their meals, from tahini to wasabi.