Colman's, bought out by Unilever in 1995 but still a British legend, has a long and distinguished history. The company, situated in Carrow, is neighbour to the city's magnificent football team that plays in shirts of a colour similar to Colman's celebrated mustard, though this is surely just a happy coincidence for both.
The company began in 1814, when Jeremiah Colman (they had proper businessman names in those days), a flour miller, bought a mill that specialised in mustard milling. Norfolk was and is a great producer of mustard; though over the years the company has sourced from all over the region, and even overseas, to obtain the finest mustard seeds, both brown and white. The sight of the yellow flowers in fields around the county is a reminder of this local speciality - though of course other regions have their own versions. Colman's were early introducers of the idea of close cooperation with farmers for mutual benefit, contracting to buy crops in order to guarantee the farmer a market without risk and at the same time ensuring the factory had a ready supply of raw materials.
It is the skilled blending of the two mustards used, brassica juncea (brown) and sinapis alba (white) that is the secret to the fire and depth of flavour of mustard, along with the careful drying of the seeds before milling to obtain the flavoured kernel used.
The resulting mustard flour is mixed with wheat flour, which mitigates the flavour somewhat, and turmeric for colour and an added hint of spice.
Colman's is such an institution in Norwich that in 1973 the company launched a mustard shop in one of the city's splendid Victorian shopping arcades, the shop itself with a layout and style in keeping with that same era.
Mustard is vital to many British dishes: Cumberland Herrings; Welsh Rarebit , the cheese-on-toast of the gods; and that fabulous Edwardian breakfast dish devilled kidneys. But it is more often used as a tracklement, a dab added to a beef steak to pep it up for example - one of the firm's early leaders used to boast it was the mustard left on the side of plates that had made the Colman's company's fortune. And there is in this writer's view no finer combination in the food world than bacon ribs, first cooked slowly in pea-soup, then spread with a very thin layer of piquant mustard.
Whether in the original powder form sold still in elegant little tins, or made-up variety in the classic mustard pot, Colman's, whether owned by a foreign conglomerate or not, is an archetypically British thing, its fiery hit marking it apart from gentler (they may say subtler) French mustards, the pleasurably eye-watering impact encapsulating the British love of strongly, even brutally spiced foods.
On this day: