What’s It Like to Be a Mustard Sommelier?
Matchmaking at the Maille boutique is a mustard lover's dream jobPhoto courtesy of Filip Wolak Photography Food Features
Stepping into a Maille boutique is a gourmet’s dream: mustard on tap. The store’s elegance permeates with every fancy detail: the golden crest, the custom mustard bar, and the beautiful mustard sommelier. It might be what would happen if Willy Wonka and Miuccia Prada had a baby.
Founded in Marseille, France by Antoine Maille, La Maison Maille has been making mustard and vinegar for over two centuries. Antoine became the official Vinegar Maker and Distiller to the King of France, and was bestowed with the coat of arms that is the emblem of the Maille brand. Maille’s first boutique opened in Paris in 1747, and their traditional stoneware jars (hand painted and made in France) are not only fancy and historic—the reusability of these jars fits well with an eco-friendly lifestyle.
In December 2014, Maille marked its territory in New York with its first non-European store, and hired Pierette Huttner as their mustard sommelier and brand ambassador.
Yes, you heard correctly: a mustard sommelier. Someone who knows so much about mustard, she can introduce you to crazy concoctions. Huttner, a New York native and lifelong Maille user, gets pretty creative with her mustard pairings. The Maille Wholegrain Chardonnay Mustard on Tap paired with Scottish salmon lox and poached quail egg was delightfully savory. But the most surprising pairing was the dessert: a chocolate éclair with Maille Mustard with white wine, pistachio and orange. That slight mustard hint was a surprise to the palate, and truly made the sweet soar.
We talked to Huttner about what it takes to be a mustard matchmaker.
Paste: The éclair was surprising.
Pierette Huttner: It is, it is. We have so many mustards that are fantastic for desserts. That’s one aspect I really like to speak to because it’s so unusual. It’s interesting, and it’s exactly what you do not expect when you walk into a Maille boutique is to go home with a mustard for dessert. We love the unexpected.
Paste: I’ve heard of wine sommeliers, tea sommeliers. You’re the first mustard sommelier I’ve ever heard of, and had the immense honor of meeting.
PH: A mustard sommelier is a role you can only have with Maille. I started last summer in this position. Most of my work experience is in retail. As a mustard sommelier, I got to combine my own passion for food and for cooking with my professional background. The first thing I did when I was hired was that I got on a plane. That’s exactly what happened, I was hired, and they were like, “Here’s your ticket.” And then I flew out literally the next day. I went on this whirlwind tour of Europe. I spent time in the stores in Dijon, Burgundy, Paris, in London. I worked with all the teams in the different stores and with their customers. It’s a very in-depth process.
You have to know your product. I’ve tasted and tried the products on my own dozens and dozens of times, and then with the group and in training. And then, in recipes. The only way you can know to speak to something is to use it and taste it yourself. Be able to identify what’s in it, be able to differentiate it from the other categories of mustard that we carry. Then I also went to Chevigny to visit the factory where they make the products. I met the team there, and went to their test kitchen. I saw the little cornichons being dropped into their bottles. The barrels of vinegar, which are actually second-hand cognac barrels, that give it that really wonderful flavor.
Paste: When did your passion for mustard begin?
PH: Always. I actually grew up in a family that used Maille. My mother was very specific on the choices she would make in the kitchen. Maille was her mustard. It was the mustard that I grew up with and identified with. I always used it for cooking. She would use classic Dijon Original on everything, from a vinaigrette, to fish, to chicken. No desserts (laughs).
Paste: So your passion for cuisine started young?
PH: I own every piece of culinary equipment known to mankind. My mother was a big Julia Child fan. My grandfather actually owned an old-fashioned delicatessen for 30 years in Queens. My whole family grew up in a food world: making iconic American and Irish things, from potato salad, to roasted chicken, to casseroles. That was a big part of my upbringing. The anecdote I usually give about my childhood to people is that I ate sea scallops growing up, while my friends had macaroni and cheese. It was very disappointing to my brother and I as children. As adults, we were delighted because we were exposed to a lot of different types of food and most things that people don’t eat until later in life.
Paste: Pierette is a very French name. Any French connection?
PH: I’m a native New Yorker, that’s the first thing I tell anyone about myself, which tells you how much I love being from New York. I grew up in the West Village. Both my parents were born here, my grandparents were not. So on my father’s side my grandmother was French and German, on my mother’s side, my grandparents emigrated from Ireland. So I have a European mix of a background, and that is how I wound up with a very French name.
Paste: How does your work experience in the beauty industry transfer to food?
PH: The similarity between beauty and food is that it’s very personal. Very much about having a conversation with people. Making sure I understand what they like, what they appreciate.
Paste: How did NYC receive the first American boutique?
PH: The shop opened in December, and the reception has been great. We have a really loyal client base. Maille is a very international brand. We had clients that would shop at [Maille’s] Madeleine store in Paris for years and they found out we were opening a [New York] store. A couple popped in their head the first day and asked, “Can we refill our jar here?”
For Maille recipes, both savory and sweet, visit their website.
Follow Madina on Twitter: @MadinaPaola.