French's mustard, the standard bearer that is synonymous with mustards in the United States, will never cut it for me. Now give me a smooth and tangy Dijon or a rustic mustard filled with tiny seeds that pop when you bite into it and I'm a happy camper. Actually, with the exception of the afore mentioned French's, there are few mustards I've tried and not liked and I'm always open to trying a new version. So when I heard about a little mustard shop in the Belgian town of Ghent I knew I had to check it out. After all, two of my favorite food and travel resources-- the New York Times and AFAR magazine -- have all written and raved about the mustard. I did and now not only do I know what all the hype is about, I can say I am a fan.
The Tierenteyn's have been making their mustard in Flanders since 1790 and today the tiny Tierenteyn Mustard shop is centrally located on Ghent's Groentenmarkt. Two Tierenteyn brothers started producing the mustard and a popular story has Napoleon and his soldiers discussing its virtues. Who knows if this is fact or urban legend but the mustard's popularity has transcended centuries with the secret recipe has since been passed down from one generation to the next. Made of dark mustard seeds as opposed to the light ones found in Dijon mustard, the seeds were originally hand ground, making the cost of the mustard accessible only to the wealthy residents of Ghent. Today the process is automated but the resulting product is just as delicious and coveted by mustard lovers from all walks of life.
Walking in the door of Tierenteyn is like stepping back in time and reminded me of visiting an old fashioned pharmacy. The mustard "factory" is located in the basement of the building with the small shop above it at street level. As I discovered it can quickly become crowded when a hoard of mustard seeking tourists descends. Floor to ceiling shelves are lined with blue and white crocks of various sizes. You can select the size you want and a friendly shop clerk will fill it with mustard. Or you can opt for a plain glass jar with a screw top but splurge on the crock since it is just so pretty and really adds to the experience.
So what does the mustard taste like? The mustard is smooth and golden but unlike most American style mustards it is tangy and hot; almost biting if you are too eager in your first taste. My initial reaction was that it had the heat of a good Chinese mustard or even included horseradish (which it doesn't). It isn't quite Dijon but it is close; Colman's mustard is similar but again, not quite the same. For me, this is what makes Tierenteyn mustard unique and oh-so good; I've never had anything quite like it. I've slathered it on sandwiches, added it to homemade salad dressings and even used it as a marinade for meat. Any way I use it I love it.
Made without added preservatives it doesn't have a long shelf life but will reportedly keep in the refrigerator for about two months. They don't ship and the only place to buy it is at their shop. So if you're in Ghent stop in with cash in hand (they don't accept credit cards) and try some for yourself. As I've almost finished with my crock I know I'll be heading back soon. After all, I need to get my fill while I'm in Belgium since that's a long trip from the U.S. to buy mustard.
If you go:
Tierenteyn Mustard Shop
+32 92 25 83 36
Open Monday-Friday 0830-1800; Saturday 0900-1230 & 1300-1800
Cash only; no credit cards accepted