why dijon is more than mustard
It was 1839 when Fallot started their mustard business in Burgundy. At that time, they were competing against 40 other artisan mustard makers. Today, 178 years later, they are the ‘last man standing’ – to coin a phrase! All the others have either closed down, or been devoured like a well made mustard sauce – by multi national corporations producing mustard on an industrial scale. Fallot by contrast, still make their mustards by grinding the seeds with mill stones at their small manufacturing facility in the centre of Beaune, Burgundy. This is the way it was done for centuries, – albeit the process is now modern and mechanised. And joy of joys, their business is booming. They recently opened a new shop and tasting centre at 16 Rue de la Chouette in Dijon, Burgundy, just around the corner from the market.
The location could not be more appropriate. The first owners of the neighbouring property were Miller and Durand. The doors of their drapery business opened in 1483, when Dijon was the undisputed world mustard champion. The ‘Rue’ is a narrow pedestrian street in the shadow of Notre Dame de Dijon – a cathedral like church dating back to 1230. From the shop you can hear the Jacomot clock – brought back to Burgundy from Kortrijk in Belgium by Philip the Bold in 1382 – it strikes on the hour and the quarter. The Rue de la Chouette is named after the small owl (chouette) carved into the outer wall of an extension to Notre Dame built in the 15c. The owl gained fame by reportedly bringing good luck to any passer by who made a wish while stroking the owl with the left hand – how many hands and how many wishes in over 500 years? Enough to cause the cute creature to lose its outer plumage! The owl is now a mascot for Dijon itself, a walkway round the city is named after it, and it is the emblem of Dijon football club.
THE EARLY DAYS
There is a charming description of Dijon by Gregoire de Tours*, of Dijon as it existed at the end of the 6c, and before it even became a town: "It is a fort built with very solid walls, in the middle of a fertile plain. In the middle flows the River Ouche - full of fish. From the North descends another small river, which surrounds the ramparts, on its way supplying the water for several mills. The fort has 33 towers. The walls, some 5 metres thick. Up to a height of 6 metres are large stones, and a further 3 metres (total 9 metres in height) of smaller stones. To the west of the fort, there are slopes covered in vines, which produce a wine of such quality, that the inhabitants scorn the wines of Chalon sur Marne."
THE DUKES OF BURGUNDY
As the gateway to the Route des Grands Crus, the quality of the wine still attracts visitors from the world over. And the river Ouche still flows through Dijon - perhaps not quite so full of fish these days!
Between the 4c and the 11c, Dijon eclipsed the status of its former capital Langres, some 65km to the north, and became the capital city of Burgundy. Why did it happen? Well, Dijon was closer to Cluny, the epicentre of Christian religious development and power in the early Middle Ages, and there was a close inter relation between the religious orders and the political rulers of Burgundy. As is noted above, the city had solid defences, and the benefit of a natural water supply, capable of sustaining the population during a period of siege. And of course there was the quality of the wine from the surrounding vineyards!
From the 12c to the early 15c Dijon was at the epicentre of cultural and artistic development in the eastern part of the country that is now France. Burgundy was ruled by a series of Dukes, whose immense wealth enabled them to pursue their interest in the arts, and to build properties in which to showcase their achievements. Many of the relics of this golden age of Burgundy are still in tact, and can be seen in the old quarter of Dijon. Others have long since disappeared. A beautiful fairytale chateau crowned the hill of Talant, to the north west of the city, with cellars to keep the wine produced by the vineyards below. Alongside was a church for the nobility and the local population. The cellars and the church (with its magnificent medieval sculptures) still exist, however following the religious wars of the 16c the chateau was dismantled, along with others in the region, upon the orders of the King of France. The aim was the destruction of the power base of the nobility in Burgundy, and sadly many medieval architectural masterpieces went with it.
The city is now seeking to re-establish its wine credentials and importance as the capital of Burgundy. Some of the vineyards around Dijon described by Gregoire have been replanted by the City, and are being farmed organically - bravo! An ambitious project associated with wine and gastronomy is underway on the city’s southern boundary, transforming an historical site into a centre for wine and cooking schools and a 5* hotel - Dijon - Cité de la Gastronomie
The car park on Rue Condorcet is 200m from the cathedral St Benigne and the adjoining Archeological museum. From the cathedral, you can pick up the Owl’s trail, a clearly marked walkway, that takes you around all the interesting parts of historical Dijon.