In many ways, mustard is surprisingly similar to wine. How, you ask? It pairs well with chocolate. It has prominent taste profiles. It comes from certain regions known for producing top-quality seeds, like Burgundy, France. In the capital city of Dijon, mustard is served on tap at heritage boutique Maille. And although we expect sommeliers to pour pinot, the 275-year-old brand recently tapped Brandon Collins to dish up Dijon as North America’s only mustard sommelier.
So what exactly does a mustard sommelier do? “Ultimately, my job is to change how people think about and use mustard in their cooking,” says the 41-year-old Ohio native. “It’s my job to understand as much as I can — how it’s made, how it enhances flavors in a recipe, how the seed interacts with certain environments.” In other words, he’s on a mission to teach Americans that mustard is so much more than just a condiment you slap on a hot dog; it’s a powerful flavor enhancer.
Upon landing the gig, Collins traveled to Maille headquarters to visit the blooming mustard fields and learn about the company’s rich history. These days, he spends his time doing R&D: researching the condiment and developing related recipes. He tastes right off the line, when the mustard is most bitter, sipping white wine to enhance the flavor. He also brings new partnerships to the table, like a recent collab with Mike’s Hot Honey. And he goes back to his roots as an executive chef to curate multi-course dinners worldwide, with every dish featuring — you guessed it — mustard.
“I had the beauty of coming up in a culinary atmosphere where chefs were curious,” he notes, referring to the superstars he learned from along the way: Ferran Adrià (El Bulli), Rocco DiSpirito (Union Pacific), Wylie Dufresne (WD-50) and Paul Liebrandt (Atlas). “I saw how food was manipulated, encapsulated and done differently.” Coupled with a passion for exploration, this background in fine dining serves Collins well as he works to discover how mustard’s flavonoids spark with various foods, like chocolate or vanilla ice cream.
When it comes to those curated dinners, Collins’ creations aim to please. “People initially think everything is going to taste like mustard, but we position to disguise,” he says. “I manipulate the dishes so the mustard doesn’t overpower the palate. By the end of the evening, I want guests to be like, ‘Wait, did I just have a whole meal with mustard?’”
That translates to fat-washed brown butter rum cocktails mixed with mustard and rosemary syrup; entrées like smoked beef tongue with paillasson or wood-grilled prawn with dill and mustard purée; and finally desserts like mustard cornmeal cake paired with parsnip ice cream and fermented blueberries. Developing these recipes is a big part of the gig. For Collins, understanding the nuances — for instance, how some seasons yield a spicier seed — helps him create palate-pleasing pairings.
Looking to the past also informs his work. At Maille, the seeds are picked, processed and blended as they have been since the 1720s, so the spice profile isn’t intrusive. “A spoonful of Maille will never make you cry or sweat,” Collins explains. “It will come up through your olfactory senses and give you a little bit of a burn. That’s why Maille was so popular in the 18th and 19th century courts. The aristocrats wore makeup and wigs; the last thing they wanted to do was cry and sweat in front of commoners.”
When you consider that Dijon was once royalty’s condiment of choice, it makes perfect sense that mustard has a sommelier of its own. Call Brandon Collins a mustard historian, a Dijon dramatist or Maille’s executive chef, his job is to spread the good word. We can raise a glass — or rather, a spoonful — to that.