The classic: mostarda di cremona. Here’s a recipe to make your own from The Spruce).  A cremona close-up (photo courtesy Cucina Corriere.  Mostarda vicentina has a jam-like consistency, losing the physical beauty of other mostardas (photo courtesy Buonissimo).  Mostarda di mantova, made from apples, pears and quince (photo courtesy Murray’s Cheese).
Years ago, on a trip to Italy, we first came across mostarda di frutta, mostarda for short.
A sweet-and-hot, fruit-and-mustard condiment from the north of Italy, it’s our go-to condiment with Italian cheeses, and some other nationalities on the cheese board. We offer more uses below.
Think of mostarda as a mustardy fruit chutney—although mostarda uses mostly candied fruits. (The Italian word for mustard in the English-language issenape).
Candied whole small fruits or larger pieces of fruit are beautifully suspended in a clear syrup flavored with mustard oil. It’s clear and doesn’t cloud the syrup. Home recipes often use mustard powder mixed into white wine.
Some mostarda is lovely to look at, like part of a still life painting. It is cooked slowly (often over three days) to maintain the natural bright colors of the fruit, and the perfect texture.
Buy jars as gifts for your foodie friends.
The origin of the word comes from a Latin term of the Middle Ages, mustum ardens, “grape juice [must] that burns,” a term first used in the Middle Ages by French monks, for the mustard they made (the history of mustard).
It burns because of the addition of crushed mustard seeds. Once crushed, the seeds release the fiery mustard oil that gives the mustard condiment its flavor.
THE HISTORY OF MOSTARDA
From the Middle Ages forward, man has sought ways to enjoy the fruits that are scarce in winter, at least through the celebrations of Christmas.
Mostarda is a food born from the need to preserve fruits for the off-season. Originally, the fruits were preserved in mosto (grape must*), unfermented grape juice that has been reduced to a syrup.
Mostarda’s origins date back to the honey and mustard condiments of ancient Rome. Grape must (freshly pressed grape juice) was mixed with ground mustard seeds and honey to create a sweet mustard. Later, fruit was added.
Recipes for “modern” mostarda, dating from the 13th century, call for the use of grape must. The first written document “Fruit Mostarda for festive season” dates to 1393 and is attributed to Galeazzo Visconti, Duke of Milan [source].
Grape must, called must for short, is the young, unfermented juice of wine grapes. Among other uses (in saba and vin cotto, for starters), it is mixed with ground mustard seeds to make mustard.
Subsequently, the condiment mostarda was made by candying the fruits and adding mustard oil to create sweet heat. Both the sugar to candy the fruits and the mustard oil were preservatives.
And by the way, mostarda became a Christmas tradition, traditionally eaten with creamy, slightly sweet mascarpone cheese.
Beginning in the 16th century, newly-affordable sugar replaced the must to candy the fruits, then mustard was added [source]. The oldest known recipe prepared with fruit, mustard and sugar, without the grape must, was found in 17th century Belgium.
From that point on, cookbooks began to include mostarda as a main ingredient. By the 19th century there were some 93 different varieties.
The sweet heat went really well with boiled meats. Initially, mostarda was the served with bollito misto, a plate of mixed boiled meats that’s a specialty of northern Italian cuisine (there’s more below about uses for mostarda).
TYPES OF MOSTARDA
According to legend, mostarda was invented by chance in medieval times. In an apothecary shop, a piece of melon fell unnoticed into a barrel filled with honey.
When it was later discovered, the melon was still as delicious as if it had been freshly picked (honey, which is virtually moisture-free, is an excellent preservative) [source].
Mostarda itself takes on different ingredients in different regions, incorporating local fruits—whatever is plentiful in the region. Raisins, nuts and other ingredients can be added.
As one source notes, almost every town in the Po valley has its own recipe.
There are many, many mostarda recipes, from grape and fig (uva e ficchi) to vegetable mustards (also candied) modern recipes with non-Italian ingredients, from cardamom pods to pineapple and pumpkin.
Here are some of the most famous, named for the areas where they originated.
Mostarda bolognese is made from apples, oranges, pears, plums and quince. In the area of Bologna, it is used to flavor the classic dish of boiled pork and cooked sausages, as well as to fill tarts and in other sweets.
Mostarda di carpi, from a town in the Emilia-Romagna region. It still uses red grape must in its recipe, along with oranges, pears, quince and sweet apples,
Mostarda di cremona also called mostarda cremonese, is the classic recipe, made with several different kinds of fruits (the makers choice among apricots, cherries, figs, peaches, pears, quinces and tangerines). It is the most commercially available style.
Mostarda di mantova, also called mostarda mantovana and mostarda di mele campanine, is made from tart= green apples called mele campanine (singular mela campanina) and pears or quince.
Mostarda veneziana, from the Venice region, is made with fresh quince pulp (a minimum of 36% pure pulp), and candied fruits (apricots, clementines, figs, white pears, yellow cherries). It is intentionally grainy/sugary.
Mostarda vicentina, from the town of Vicenza in the Veneto region, is characterized by a jam-like consistency and the use of quince (mele cotogne) as its main ingredient. During the Christmas holidays, it is eaten with spoonfuls with mascarpone.
Mostarda di voghera, in the Lombardy region of Italy, has documentation from 1397, when Duke Gian Galeazzo Visconti requested “mostarda de fructa cum la senavra.” The recipe can include apples, apricots, candied orange peel, cherries, clementines, figs, lemon, melon and pears.
Mostarda siciliana is made with orange zest, cinnamon, nutmeg, clove and often, toasted chopped almonds.
Dalmatian mostarda, made in Croatia across the Adriatic Sea from Venice, is a simpler recipe, made with quinces and honey.