French mustard specialist Maille had Queen Victoria’s seal of approval – now it’s got ours too

Words: Tobias Gourlay Photos: Max Miechowski

Maille masterclass mustard teambuilding

We’re in the brand-new, purpose-designed event space above Maille’s flagship boutique on Piccadilly. Across the road, the Royal Academy imposes itself through the Salon du Moutardier’s large windows, but our attention is focused inwards. Because, there on the other side of a bar with built-in mustard taps, is Harry Lalousis, the only mustard sommelier in the world. His task is to teach us about the history and art of making this ancient condiment.

Bare armed and wearing a heavy apron, he plays the role of artisan well, showing off the company trinkets that lend the weight of history to the new room. Before we roll up our sleeves, there’s the colourful Maille story to tell. We listen while dipping breadsticks into the current range (try the blue cheese mustard) and tucking into a charcuterie and cheese board.

Maille masterclass mustard teambuilding

After a spell flogging the sort of 18th-century health and beauty products you just don’t see any more (vinegar was often used in concealer), Antoine Maille found an edge in the burgeoning mustard market: by cutting the seeds instead of grinding them, and using a lighter white-wine vinegar, his product was less ferocious than the norm. This made it popular at the French royal court, where patrons could ingest handsome amounts without sweating off their makeup. News spread, and Maille mustard ended up over here: the company became Queen Victoria’s official supplier. To this day, it considers itself the condiment’s pre-eminent purveyor.

Story told, we can unbutton our cuffs. Spread before us, there’s an array of spices and flavours with which Harry wants us to create our own mustards. The rest of the team jump in first, pulling dijon and wholegrain from the taps, and emptying the bar of its more obvious flavours and spices. I’m left to pound together a daring, mixed-base strawberry and chilli number.

Maille masterclass mustard teambuilding

As I’m personalising my take-home jar, Harry mentions that Maille sells 35 mustards in 67 countries. For now, at least, it will probably remain at 35. Unless Heather’s curry powder and coriander dijon gets some traction.

The detail:

Harry can host groups of up to 25. It’s £400 all in, and sessions are easily added on to sundry private events in the Salon.

Maille, 2 Piccadilly Arcade, SW1Y 6NH, 020 7822 6765

Check out more teambuilding and away day ideas here.

This article was first published in SquareMeal Venues + Events, Spring/Summer 2017