An Italian Mix of Fruit and Mustard.
Mostarda is preserved fruit seasoned with a flash of dry mustard. It comes from northern Italy with different versions made in different regions, including the Veneto, Piedmonte, and that paradise of Italian food, Emilia Romagna.
Mostarda comes two ways. Either pieces of whole fruit (like pears, melon, figs, apples, or quince) are stewed in a sticky, mustard-tinged syrup. Or, else the fruit is cooked into a jam-like consistency, also with dry mustard added. Its origins probably date back to when fruit had to be preserved so it could be eaten year-round. The added mustard doesn't seem very Italian to me as sweet and heat is not a common combination in this cuisine. Still, the flavors are a sparkling accent to the rich yet slightly dull taste of a boiled meat like the Italian classic, bollito misto. And it's a sweet, but winning and complex compliment to the tang of cheese.
Marcella Hazan, my goddess of Italian cooking, wrote in her book, Marcella Says...., about the scarcity of mostarda after she moved from Venice to southern Florida (go figure but she did). Instead of going without, she wrote that you can make your own "mustard fruit" by combining good quality (no Smuckers, she says) fig or quince jam or orange marmalade with Colman's mustard, a teaspoon of the powdered mustard for each tablespoon of jam. Mix this together, she says, and combine it with some mascarpone cheese and eat on a cracker, with a chaser of Prosecco.
There's not much from Ms. Hazan that I don't confidently follow, but I've resisted this. After all, we live in New York, not Florida, and can buy very decent mostarda here in many of our Italian markets.
The next time you're making any kind of simple boiled beef (although probably not corned beef that's been cooked with cabbage) or serving cheese, especially a salty, tangy sheep cheese like pecorino di fossa or a manchego, buy some mostarda and taste them together. To me, it's heaven (with a little heat) in a jar.