The Senf attitude

Savouring mustard from starters to desserts in the house of either the  Easter Bunny or the White Rabbit from Alice in Wonderland was a pretty cool story.

The place looks like it belongs in a story book.  This little house is truly scrumptious though it is not made out of ginger bread like the one in Hansel and Gretel.  There is no wicked witch hidden inside.  It is one of the four only restaurants of Montjoie that are listed in the Michelin guide that is hidden here. It’s nickname is Schnabeleum.  Schnabel in German means beak, it possibly indicates a place meant for fine mouths.  It is not yet twelve, but the restaurant is already open.  Let’s check it out…

If all the dishes presented to us on the card – and I mean all – have a touch of mustard in their preparation or in the finishing of the sauce, it is not just a crazy idea of chef Heinrich Leipold.  It is because the restaurant is established here for twenty years in an annex building, prettily refurbished, to the historical  Mustard Mill of Montjoie, the Senfmühle.  The intention naturally was to demonstrate that mustard is a condiment that possesses a gastronomical dimension.  Let’s sharpen our taste buds…

The friend who tagged along with me is not the adventurous style when relating to food and appreciates balanced flavours.  Her opinion of the mustard butter that immediately is served with bread will be determining for the rest of the events.  “It is fresh, a little spicy, quite nice.  A dot of tomato or red pepper maybe…” As for me? I am enjoying it on little toasts to accompany my dry sherry as aperitif.  The harmony is successful.  In the meantime, tables around us start to fill up.  Small family with two children, a young couple in love, a group of seniors on a field trip.  The atmosphere is gemütlich.

We skipped the starters, and we chose well: the portions are really generous.  I opted for the slice of salmon on its skin, which may be the best or the worst thing.  Despite its thickness, it is cooked to perfection keeping a perfect smoothness.  Would that be lemon flavoured mustard or the Riesling flavoured one that discretely spices the cream sauce?  In any event, the white wine in question, that we may order per glass, suits the dish perfectly.  The vegetables are as crispy as they ought to be.

For dessert, we choose to take mustard filled pralines with our coffee.  And yes, it is good. “The cream inside reminds me of salted butter caramel”, states the sweet palate that came with me.  But it is time to go to the main building for the afternoon guided tour.  The Mustard Mill was founded in 1882 by current Senfmüler Guido Breuer’s great-grand-father.  The aforementioned was re-joined at management by his daughter Ruth Breuer, who represents the fifth generation.  At first, the mill was at the edge of the Rur, in the centre of Montjoie.  In 1952, it was moved to a little valley of its affluent, the Laufenbach.

The traditional recipe for Moutarde de Montjoie (the original name is indeed in French) is composed first and foremost of sweet yellow grains of mustard and spicier brown grains of mustard from Canada and Sweden.  The making itself is done in several stages.  The mustard flour is mixed with vinegar, kitchen salt and a combination of spices and aromas that are secretly kept by the Breuer family.  The five first aromatic varieties of mustard master Guido have been the original recipes and the tarragon, garlic, horseradish and curry mustards.  Today, there are 22 varieties! 

The mix is ground between two heavy black volcanic basalt stones.  Naturally, the millstones are no longer moved by hydraulic force of a paddle wheel, but with electric transmission.  After two milling turns, the Montjoie Mustard, an old style mustard with thick grains where we still recognize the basic ingredients, is ready.  It can now mature to take its definitive aromatic character.  The tour, organized two days per week, kind of leaves you hanging because it is a speech in front of a historical machine, that is then briefly swirled in front of you. (Better off understanding German or booking as a group.) But after this, we enter the cave of Ali Baba…

Oh, my word! This cave is a wine cave! The Weinkeller Monschau is indeed part of the gastronomical lures of the Senfmühle complex with a selection of about 400 wines from the entire world.  Fun fact: some of the rare bottles are locked away in a grilled treasure chest.  Some thematic tasting days are frequently organised..  And special menus of matching dishes and wines are programmed several times per year at the Schnaubuleum restaurant.  Right in front of the cave opens up heaven for the lickerish…

If you’ve missed out the tasting of 22 types of mustard during the visit, you may catch up in the boutique.  Little disposable spoons and tasting pots are made available. Will you check out the most spicy side, chili or green pepper, the fruity side with figs or currants, the sweet side with poppy or honey?… There also is a decent selection of spirits, that we can also taste, savoury chocolates, sauces such as aioli flavoured mustard or refined dressings with curry and honey mustards… And a beautiful suggestion of baskets and other lickerish gifts.  The boutique and the wine cave are open every day.

Back home, I opened two of the pots I bought.  The Riesling mustard, for which I chose the traditional 335ml pot, and the chili one, in a sandstone pot of 100g.  I also bought a Senfmühler recipe book, so I will be able to try myself cooking with mustard.  First steps: after the picture, I mixed each type in a bit of 40%fat white cheese, slightly salted.  Quite nice as dip sauces.  The tall pot on the left is empty.  It was a gift and that’s how I got to know about the Moutarde de Montjoie.  Zen, let’s be Senf.

Senfmühle and Schnabuleum, Laufenstrasse 118, 52156 Monschau

This place is accessible by car while going to towards Montjoie at the roundabout that is just at the end of the road coming from Eupen.  There also is a shop in the Centre: the Senfonie.

Text and photographs: Germaine Fanchamps

Translation: Andrea Johnson-Ferguson