Italian mostarda is an invigorating condiment that mixes the intense spice of mustard with the sweet flavors of local seasonal fruits and vegetables. It is usually served with boiled meats or cheese in northern Italy… from Piemonte on through the Veneto and down into Emilia Romagna.
A favorite of Catherine de’ Medici, she placed a jar in her dowry trunk when she left to marry the king of France’s son in 1533.
The origins of mostarda go back to the ancient practice of pairing sweet and spicy flavors, like grape must and fruit, with mustard. The word mostarda is traced to the Latin word ardens, or ardente in Italian. Ardente means burning, and it refers to the spice of the white mustard flour that was once added to the unfermented grape must, or mustum, to make mustum ardens. In French, this spicy conserve was called moût ardent, which then became moutarde, and was translated into Italian as mostarda. While its name may come from French, mostarda is entirely an Italian specialty.
Mostarda is not limited to a single season. It complements a wide range of foods and each fruit has its own dish: fig mostarda is served with herbed cheese and salumi; clementine mostarda with roast meats and fresh cheeses; tome cheese and prosciutto cotto are ideal pairs for mostarda with pumpkin. With pear mostarda, serve Parmigiano-Reggiano and Felino salame, and for melon, serve culatello and fresh cow’s milk cheeses.