With its church and main street, Gravelbourg seems like just another Canadian prairie town. But it has a little-known claim to fame -- as prime producer of the world's mustard seeds.
And growing beneath its placid exterior is a movement to depose France's Dijon as the globe's condiment king.
AdvertisementA two-hour drive through farm country from the Saskatchewan provincial capital Regina, the town of 1,200 established in 1906 by four brothers from Quebec "is now at the heart of mustard production," boasts its mayor, Real Forest.
Canada produces 35 to 40 percent of the world's mustard seeds, with Gravelbourg at the core of this output.
The mustard seed was only introduced in the Canadian province in the 1940s, five centuries after Dijon in eastern France, which made it famous.
But France's Burgundy region no longer mass-produces the seeds and the last big mustard manufacturing plant in Dijon was shuttered in 2008 after being taken over by Anglo-Dutch multinational Unilever.
So Gravelbourg now has the chance to step up and seize mustard glory.
The problem is "we sell the raw materials which go elsewhere... and the benefits also go elsewhere," laments Forest, who is searching for investors to help locals kick-start their dreams.
More and more Canadian resource sectors -- such as forestry and diamond mining -- are seeking to process raw materials into finished products for export to reap greater economic benefits.
Acknowledging past failures to help farmers turn their crops into value-added products and struggles ahead, Saskatchewan Agriculture Minister Lyle Stewart is adamant: his government wants "more agriculture products to be processed here with brand names."
"We need to sell not only mustard but also to add value to more of our agriculture products," he said.
Some have already started getting Gravelbourg's name out.
One local family, for example, started Gravelbourg Gourmet Mustard two years ago, offering a line of condiments made from local harvests.
"Our objective was to use local resources," says owner Val Michaud, who started the company with her husband.
It is currently the only mustard maker in the province, but its wares are sold in specialty stores throughout Western Canada, and it is soon slated to expand nationwide and beyond.
At present, however, it does not even own its kitchen. Instead, the mustards are prepared at facilities at the local school.
"I'd really like to have our own kitchen next year," said Michaud, offering tastes of her traditional wholegrain mustard, hot (Dijon) mustard, and a unique garlic and berries blend.
"With our company, I hope to put Gravelbourg on the map."