Luke Honey from the Greasy Spoon blog offers a re-appraisal of a quintessentially British condiment, and asks “powder or jar?”
A little confession to you before I write this post: I’m already a fan of Colman’s Mustard. Actually, I’m a massive, gi-normous, slavering obsessive. But then I’m also a paid-up supporter of the exclusive Heinz Tomato Ketchup Club, which might also include within its hallowed portals: Lea & Perrins’s Worcestershire Sauce, Cooper’s Oxford Marmalade, Twiglets, Coca Cola, Cadbury’s Chocolate Fingers, Schweppes Tonic Water, Uncle Ben’s Rice, Marmite, H.P. Sauce, Triscuits and French’s Yellow Mustard. And then there’s Land Rover, Brooks Brothers, Levi Jeans, Timex Watches, Lacoste, Barbour and Waddington’s Cluedo and Monopoly. All classic bona-fide brands, many of them with a long and distinguished history. Plus integrity. Not a good idea to tamper with them, I think; Cadbury’s- sorry, Kraft, Hasbro and Brooks Brothers, please take note.
But I do understand how this happens: some thrusting young marketing exec turns up, and under a great deal of pressure (oh- how glad I am to have escaped the corporate world!), announces in a meeting that what the brand needs is “a make-over, to attract the kids”, without realising that they’re in danger of destroying the very essence of what the brand is all about in the first place. Change for Changes Sake. Not necessarily the way forward. And the funny thing- I suspect- is that the young ‘uns, or at least the cooler specimens, would probably identify more with the styling of the original packaging in the first place.
For these classic brands are all about comfort, are they not? And today, the concept of ‘comfort’ is very much at the cutting edge. Many of us will be eating Colman’s Mustard, Kellogg’s Corn Flakes or Heinz Baked Beans from birth to the grave. Not that I’m completely against the idea of subtle re-invention. But it’s a very difficult thing to get right.
Take a look at Budd, the distinguished pajama and shirtmaker; a tiny- but relatively famous- shop in the Piccadilly Arcade, founded in 1910. It’s recently been bought up by Huntsman, the Savile Row tailor, and they’ve given it a very subtle face-lift. Painted the walls a light grey, re-instated some new oak shelving, given the place a Hoover and a decent website. But that’s about it Nothing More, Nothing Less. And it works brilliantly.
But back to that all-important mustard. Perhaps the greatest brand of English mustard is made by Colman’s of Norwich. That famous ‘blood and custard’ packaging. The Bull logo. Founded by Jeremiah Colman in 1814, it’s a classic English mustard with a deep yellow colour, tangy taste and powerful kick. Trying to pin-point that distinctive taste is difficult: slightly musty? salty? slighty sweet? It’s perhaps, at it’s best, with roast beef, sliced thinly and slightly rare.
Connoisseurs of the brand reckon that the best version is Colman’s Mustard powder, which you mix up with water, and then leave for about twenty minutes to bring out the oils and for the full powerful flavour to develop. Personally, I prefer the stuff straight from the jar. It has a very different, more developed, saltier- dare I say it- slightly synthetic taste. Works brilliantly with fried bread too.
Believe it or not, there’s a Colman’s Mustard Cookbook. Haven’t, as yet, tried any recipes from it, but it looks fun: