Ari's Picks

Pear Mostarda from Madison at the Cream Top Shop

A taste of Italian tradition in Central Wisconsin

a jar of Pear Mostarda on a white marble surface

Photo courtesy Quince & Apple

We’ve got a great new spicy-sweet jarred bit of wonderful deliciousness on the shelves at the Cream Top Shop. The confection in question is a terrific old-school style Pear Mostarda made in the style of Cremona in northern Italy. It’s made by the crew at Quince & Apple in Madison, the same artisans from whom we’ve been getting that great Pickled Zucchini that goes on the Roadhouse’s really good Carolina Gold Rice Bowl.

Cremona, located smack dab in the middle of northern Italy, south of Milan and a bit to the east of Piacenza, is probably most famous for its violins. The town’s role as a center of musical instrument-making dates back to the 12th century. Most famously, it’s the home of Stradivarius, named for the highly esteemed luthier Antonio Stradivari. Mostarda is also a significant part of Cremona’s culture, though certainly a distant second to music-making. It’s essentially fruits cooked in mustard oil and sugar to make a condiment that could be at least roughly compared to an Italian sort of chutney. Jess Winn from Quince & Apple writes:

We’re the only American producer of this style that we know of. We make it with real mustard oil rather than just mustard seeds or mustard powder, which is how most American companies make it. This leads to a far more pungent and spicy mostarda than other American mostardas and most Italian mostardas sold in the export market.

One of Quince & Apple’s two founders, Matt Stoner Fehsenfeld, shares some backstory:

When we were creating the mostarda, I drew inspiration from a recipe that I found in a cookbook from the Italian Middle Ages. The author suggests fermenting the mustard seeds first. I had been struggling to get good complexity in my test batches, but when I tried that, it totally elevated our mostarda and that’s how we still do it!

The name “mostarda” has nothing to do with it being flavored with mustard. The Italian word for mustard is actually senape. It’s called mostarda because it was originally sweetened with grape must, which was much more readily available in the old times in Italy than sugar. The fact that it sounds like mustard is just a coincidence.

Also, when I first started working with mustard essential oil in the early days of recipe development, I significantly underestimated its potency. I added maybe 1/4 tsp to a simmering pot at home and in seconds was crying my eyes out and fumigating our entire house. Fortunately, I was home alone. I could barely function or see, so I ran to my kids’ bedroom and found a pair of tiny Finding Nemo swim goggles, strapped them on, and ran back to the kitchen so that I could navigate back to take the pot outside and throw it out. I only made that mistake once!

The Pear Mostarda is marvelous with cheese like the Rogue River Blue, Parmigiano, Piave, sheep’s milk cheeses of all sorts, and the Creamery’s Manchester. Great on grilled cheese sandwiches or served on the side with roasted meats of all sorts. My longtime friend, food writer Elizabeth Minchilli, had the marvelous idea to add it to a cocktail—you can pour a bit of the liquid syrup in the jar into the drink, and/or stick a piece of the pear onto a toothpick-skewer for a garnish:

As I was digging into the spicy, syrupy goodness of the mostarda I had a thought: cocktail ingredient! I use flavored syrups all the time for cocktails. And here I was, with a jar of sweet and spicy syrup studded with jewel-like pieces of fruit just asking me to mix it into something. Ok, I know a lot of you out there don’t like it when I bastardize the classic martini. So I’m not calling this a martini. A completely different name: Mostardini. That ok?

Pear Mostarda also makes a magical combination spooned onto the Creamery’s Cream Cheese, either as is, or atop one of those wonderful, world-class Potter’s Crackers (which are also made in Madison). I love it on a toasted Bakehouse Zinglish Muffin. It’s terrific with the Pit-Smoked Chicken (a regular item at our house) from the Roadhouse, roast beef, pork chops, or pâté. Because its shelf-life is long, you can keep the mostarda in the fridge for a good long while. It’s also fantastically addictive—I’ve been putting a bit of it on almost everything, and my meals are a bit better for it. I’ll give you a heads-up that if you’re sensitive to heat, the mustard is slightly on the hotter side, so start slowly. Personally, I eat it by the spoonful.

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