A. Fieschi Mostarda di Cremona

Where did all the apothecaries go? As I write this I feel like I’m giving the weltschmerz laced air of a woman who has seen it all and bought the t-shirt. Granted, I have never seen an apothecary, but I would trade the sterile, monochromatic blandness of Walgreen’s Pharmacy for those musty coiffers. The closest thing I’ve found lies in foreign groceries, the kinds in small cities where dust comes free with every purchase and meat comes in alive and often leaves alive as well. This particular treat resembles those murky jars with mysterious contents and comes from First Tracks as an intriguing gift. With a little research, we found that mostarda di Cremona is a condiment from Northern Italy consisting of preserved fruits in a mustard powder sauce. Despite looking a lot like alien eggs, it’s quite a unique regional product. It’s one of those things that has been around for centuries, unbeknownst to most of the American population. I had not heard of this prior to receiving it, making it that much more intriguing.First Tracks advised us to consume the little fruits with preserved Italian meat, like proscuitto, but before that, we had to perform an initial investigation. In other words, I needed to touch that fruit. It’s not every day you get to pry tiny fruits out of a gel-filled jar. The fruits inside were mainly stone fruits- peaches, nectarines, pears, and such, but also included a tiny orange. The consistency was thicker than a standard canned fruit syrup and more like a corn syrup texture- just as sticky. It had a spicy, sweet scent. The strangest thing about it, though I suppose this was more disorientation strange than actually strange, was that it tasted exactly like mustard, though with this thick, syrupy mouthfeel. Definitely unique.
The little fruits inside were surprisingly firm with mushiness only from the baby pear. When we cut into them, they harbored a crystalline, jellied texture reminding me of solidified polymers and tasted like the sauce in varying degrees. Out of all the fruits, the orange worked best with the spicy gel, the rind infused with a bitter, sweet flavor and a citrusy zing from the oils. I’d definitely try chopping this up in sesame noodles or on top of some roasted chicken. It was the kind of flavor that really seems to impart its sensations on other foods. We wanted to try these in a traditional application, so for dinner tonight we made a prosciutto and fresh mozzarella pizza with a few sliced fruits on top. Keepitcoming snacked on a few slices with some pieces of prosciutto as an antipasto. To drink, we took the cava and basil cocktail from The Roost and tweaked it to our liking. The end result was casual, and yet decadently sophisticated, something I could see myself eating out of the fridge as a snack or serving as a light summer lunch to friends. We extracted the little gems and sliced them into translucent wedges on top of the pie. Though we tried to wash some of the syrup off for fear of burning, a good deal of it seeped through the pizza crust and caramelized into a sticky area underneath. However, this was no problem- it transformed an unseasoned crust into a delicious, savory sweet treat! It did make it a bit difficult to handle. The flavor of the fruits really changed during the cooking process. The orange still remained the most intense and sauce-infused, but the peaches were gelatinous and juicy. The overall flavor was a charred, meaty, juicy spiciness, like pineapple ham or citrus marinated meat. On top of the pizza with crispy mozzarella, it was absolutely heavenly. A natural combination- meat, fruit, and cheese, just seemed to be bumped up another level as it was paired with peppery, piquant flavors. The heating element seems to be tricky- heating it too much dilutes the full spectrum of flavors.If I hadn’t already loved such a combination, this would have rendered me into a convert for sure. I was surprised at how versatile a condiment it was. I think my next step would be to incorporate this into a dessert, perhaps as a key ingredient in an individual crisp or mixed in with some ice cream. It really defied its hyper-specific ingredients, creating a delightful and universal set of flavors for all seasons.