What Is Mostarda?

Buying, Cooking, and Recipes

Apricot apple mostarda

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Mostarda is a traditional Italian condiment made from fruit (both fresh and dried), syrup, and spices, and served with cooked meats, poultry, and charcuterie. Sometimes referred to as mostarda di frutta, or simply mustard fruit, mostarda is basically a spicy relish or chutney. 

But mostarda's defining characteristic is that the main spice is either mustard powder or whole mustard seeds. The spiciness of the mustard, the sweetness of the fruit, and the acid from the syrup, usually derived from wine or vinegar, combine to produce a unique flavor profile. The mustard, in particular, provides a substantial kick. 

But unlike the spiciness that comes from chiles, which imparts its heat to your tongue, the pungency of mostarda is like what you get from horseradish: you'll feel it in your nasal passages rather than your mouth. 

What Is It Used For?

Like other relishes and chutneys, mostarda is served as a condiment with other foods. Traditionally, mostarda was served as an accompaniment to braised meats, which can be a bit heavy and fatty, and benefit from a fruity, tangy, spicy condiment to liven things up. An analogue is the citrus gremolata, a blend of orange and lemon zest mixed with fresh garlic and parsley, which is traditionally served as an accompaniment to braised veal shanks

But in more recent times, mostarda has come to be served with grilled and roasted meats, cold cuts, cheeses (including cheddar, provolone and blue), as well as crostini, bread sticks, olives, pickles and nuts. Basically, you can enjoy it on everything from a steak to a sandwich to a wedge of cheese, or just spread on toast.

How to Make Mostarda

Making mostarda the traditional way involves macerating fruit, capturing the liquid, and reducing it to a syrup, then macerating the fruit in this syrup, repeating this cycle up to three times. Finally, the syrup is infused with mustard and this liquid is poured over the fruit and simmered, then cooled. 

For the home process, cut up fruit, cover it with sugar and let it macerate in the fridge overnight, during which time the juices will release. Drain that liquid and reduce it on the stove until it's thick and syrupy. After it cools, pour it over the fruit and refrigerate overnight once again. 

Repeat this process once more before simmering the entire mixture, along with some wine or vinegar, and the powdered or whole mustard seeds. The nice thing about using whole mustard seeds is they provide an additional crunch to the mostarda. Here's a more detailed explainer on how to make mostarda.

Mostarda-Making Tips

  • The smaller you cut your fruit, the more liquid they will release. If you use citrus fruits like oranges or tangerines, separate them into sections, and then cut up the sections so that they'll release their juices more readily.
  • Likewise, if you're using grapes, cut them in half. 
  • In general, keep in mind that you're making a condiment, not a fruit salad. Aim for cutting everything up into roughly uniform half-inch chunks. They'll shrink even more as they give up their liquid.
  • With dried fruits, you'll have to simmer them separately in a small amount of water, to soften them, before adding them to the fresh fruit at the start of the process. 
  • You can make an accelerated version of mostarda in as little as a day. Instead of draining and reducing the syrup, you'd simply simmer the fruit and sugar along with some water and/or wine, and add the mustard at the end, then cool and serve. The flavors won't be quite as concentrated, but it'll still be good. 

Mostarda Varieties

The traditional mostarda, which originates in Cremona, a city in the Lombardy region of Northern Italy, is known as Mostarda di Cremona, and features apricots, peaches, kiwis, pears, apples, tangerines, cherries, quinces and figs. Cremona-style mostarda is made with whole fruit, whereas elsewhere the fruit is chopped or even mashed.

In Vicenza, in the Veneto region of northeastern Italy, the typical mostarda is made of quince, which is from the same family as apples and pears, but much more sour. In Piedmont, in northwestern Italy, it's made with quince, pears, and grape must, which consists of crushed grapes and their juice. And in Tuscany, in central Italy, mostarda is made from grape must and candied citron, which is a citrus fruit, similar to lemons but much less juicy.

A simple mostarda can be made from a single fruit, such as a cherry mostarda or fig mostarda. Even tomatoes and sweet pumpkins can be used to make mostarda.

How to Store Mostarda

Some mostarda recipes call for the use of hot water or pressure canning techniques, in which case the unopened jars of mostarda can be stored for up to a year. But in most cases, a basic mostarda recipe should be stored in an airtight container in the fridge, where it will keep for a week or two.