Napa Valley Mustard Festival: A Tangy Celebration of Food, Wine & Art

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Note: The 2008 Mustard Festival concludes this Saturday, March 29, 2008, with the Photo Finish & Grand Finale, 7 to 10:30pm at Mumm Napa in Rutherford.  $90 in advance, $125 at the door. For more information, go to www.mustardfestival.org.

mustard picture.jpgHow do I love thee, Napa Valley? Let me count the (many) ways. If you think Napa Valley is a love-fest during harvest, you're right on one count. But my favorite time of year is actually spring - when the hills are emerald green and the wild mustard is in full bloom.

Mustard is a natural complement to grapevines, a nitrogen-boosting cover crop that replenishes the soil while vines are dormant. The Napa Valley Mustard Festival celebrates all that is glorious about Wine Country in a typically quiet time of year. There are many festival events to choose from every January, February and March, and in keeping with our region's first-class reputation most of them involve food, wine and art.

The best of all three is captured on the Mustard Festival's Awards Night, hosted at a unique location each year. It's a chance to rub elbows with Napa's most creative culinary talent, indulging in everything from Duck with Mustard Greens to Profiteroles with Mustard Essence  - an acquired taste, but delicious!

Each chef is tasked with creating a dish featuring mustard which can be in the form of seed, powder, paste or produce. It's remarkable to realize how many flavor profiles you can taste from a single food source. And for the purist, there are over 50 different prepared mustards for sampling, ranging from the classic to wasabi and ginger.  As a major foodie and former professional mustard maker, I'm especially fond of those with a kick in their step!

The Awards event piece de resistance: you are the judge - literally.  There is a 'People's Choice' competition for the best dish with flavor, presentation, and creativity as the criteria.  Winning entries have included Raviolini in a Light Dijon Cream Sauce, Corned Beef & Cabbage Salad and Seared Ahi with Mustard Brittle.  (Check out the awarded recipes here )

Pair the tastings and judging with Napa Valley's premier wines and some heel-raising music, and you have the one of the most unique and delicious events of the season.  For information on coming Mustard Festival events, go to www.mustardfestival.org.
 
Karen Schuppert, foodrx@comcast.net, is a Certified Nutrition Educator and cooking instructor specializing in whole foods wellness.

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