Reflections on Dijon, Mustard, and Rapeseed

What’s In A Name
No sooner did I see the name ‘Dijon’ on our map in the car as we drove to the town from Lyon in May than I could almost taste the delicious, grainy mustard for which the town is so well known. 

Having decided to take ‘the slow boat to China’ to travel from Lyon to Dijon in the eastern part of France by opting for the side roads and delightful country sights versus the far quicker autoroute, we passed mile after mile of vineyards as we got closer to Dijon.

Here is a photograph of the center of this town which is the historical capital of the province of Burgundy:

dijon-town-center

New! Now you can buy a large art print of this image from Quillcards.
The print includes a quotation from Shakespeare on the subject of love.

Under the Spell
A hot spell was gripping the region, and the vineyards gleamed in the baking temperatures along the roads leading to Dijon.

The vineyards were dotted with people here and there who were tending the grapes, and we felt concern about the workers as we watched their bent figures.

The Wines of Burgundy
We read in our guidebooks that this Burgundy region was one of the premiere regions for wines. I don’t know much about wines, but of course I recognized Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, Chablis, and Beaujolais – the names of some of the world-famous wines created in the area.

‘Mellow Yellow’ It Isn’t
As well as seeing vast rows of ripening grapes on sturdy vines, we saw swatches of shocking-yellow rapeseed carpeting the fields as you can see in the photograph below:

 rapeseed-fields-in-france

One can also see such rapeseed crops in the countryside around our home in England at this time of the year. Whenever I see rapeseed blossoming in England or in France, I have the same reaction, time and again: I gasp at its startling, unbelievable (as in ‘un-believable’) beauty.

Van Gogh’s Genius
I immediately thought of Van Gogh’s paintings when I first caught sight of rapeseed.

When Van Gogh painted such scenes, I had reasoned before I moved to England ten years ago, surely he was exaggerating reality. 

Ah, but once I saw the color for myself as it is in nature – then I understood that it was Van Gogh’s genius that enabled him to relay such explosion of color on his canvasses.

Hunting for Mustard
Now that I was traveling in the Burgundy region close to Dijon, I wondered if mustard plants looked as vivid as rapeseed does. Living most of my life in cities and new to learning about nature, I was ignorant as to what we could find.

In fact, we didn’t see anything yellow other than the rapeseed on our travels from Lyon to Dijon, or at least what we could identify.

The Canadian Connection
So when we finally reached Dijon, we visited the Maille mustard store that has been in existence since 1777, and it was natural for us to ask where the fields of mustard plants were in the Dijon outskirts through which we had traveled.

We spoke in French and English to the amiable, friendly store employees. 

So imagine our complete surprise when theytold us where the mustard plants grow that Maille uses for its delicious mustard: None other than in Canada!

Canada, you may ask (as indeed we did too)? 

About Mustard Crops and Jean Naigeon
I have since found out from various sources that indeed 85% – 90% of the world’s mustard crops are grown in Canada, Montana, and North Dakota.

Most mustard producers purchase seeds from farming cooperatives that maintain huge quantities of seed for the mustard market.

I wonder what Jean Naigeon – credited with the recipe for Dijon Mustard more than two hundred and fifty years ago – would think about such modern ways?

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    Comments

    1. says

      You’ve got me hooked now. I would love to know. Is it possible to do Dijon in a weekend??? I am thinking of catching a ferry across, camping along the way and then catching the ferry back on Sunday night. Just a plan. Love France and want to explore areas I’ve not seen much of in the past.

      Roll on Dijon article!

      • Tamara Colloff-Bennett says

        Hi Nick- Thanks for your kind comments, I appreciate it. Regarding your question about seeing Dijon in a weekend, my thoughts are as follows: It’s a seven-hour drive from Cherbourg to Dijon and there’s a lot to see in Dijon, so I think you would be hard pressed to pack everything into one weekend. Beyond that, if and when you decide to go – have a great time, it’s a beautiful area!

    2. says

      These are beautiful pics! Not just the colors (especially the startling yellow in the fields), but I love the composition too.
      So Dijon is technically no longer a french produce?! Quite a neat surprise element in that writeup there!

      • Tamara Colloff-Bennett says

        Hi Shipra – Thanks for your kind comments about David’s photographs and my article here on Dijon, we appreciate it. I also want to say that I like your lively photographs of Greenwich Village in NYC on your blog (by the way, I grew up and lived for many years in the NY area and the Village has always been a great spot).

    3. says

      Hi Tamara,
      Thank you for the feedback, I am just a learner of photography, I have been clicking with my point n shoot for many years, and could afford a dslr only recently:) I wish I could fictionalize a starving artists story out of mine, but that would be fiction! Frankly, there’s a long way for me to go, both in photography & writing, and so I truly appreciate your visiting my blog and letting me know you enjoyed it. I know a New Yorker (such as you) can see much more in those collections of pics than anyone else. I will have more up next week.
      Apart from all that, truly enjoy your blog, much in love with the images taken by David, and enjoy both of ‘yous’ writing very much :) Will be coming back more than often!

    4. Tamara Colloff-Bennett says

      Hi Shipra,
      My pleasure regarding my comments about your photographs and your blog. It’s also refreshing to read your frank reflections about what you have been through with your photography and writing.

      More power to you!

      By the way, I don’t consider myself a New Yorker as you wrote here. I did grow up in a nearby area in New Jersey and I did live in New York City for a chunk of years. However, because I also lived for a while in Washington, DC and California in the USA and then in several other countries in the 14 years that I have been overseas, I have never identified myself as a bona fide New Yorker (i.e., unlike some friends of mine are who have lived in New York for a number of decades and who are real experts on everything about the city).

      I’ll be checking out your blog, and thanks again so much for your lovely comments about ours.

    5. Joan Miller says

      Beautiful photos and fascinating facts about Dijon and mustard. Now I want to see the fields of mustard in Montana and North Dakota! I know Dakota also grows a lot of black oil sunflower seeds, and I’d love to see those fields in bloom as well.

      Your website is looking lovely and it radiates quality and much thought.

    6. Tamara Colloff-Bennett says

      Hi Joan,
      Glad you like the photos and facts about Dijon and mustard here.

      In fact, I thought of you when I found out about the fields of mustard in Montana and North Dakota and I wondered if you have already seen them. So if you get the chance to see those fields in the future — enjoy!

      Thanks for the education about Dakota since I didn’t know they grow black oil sunflower seeds (let alone that I didn’t know sunflower seeds can give forth black oil to begin with).

      Last but not least, many thanks for your wonderful compliment here about our website in general — much appreciated…

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