- The Washington Times - Wednesday, May 13, 2009

President Obama does little without attracting attention. Even his choice of mustard gets broken down by both the left and the right.

During his recent visit to Ray’s Hell-burger, the gourmet burger joint owned and operated by local steakhouse impresario Michael Landrum, the president asked for an unusual condiment: Dijon mustard. Blogger and Cornell Law professor William A. Jacobsen picked up on the fact, noting that Mr. Obama asked, “You got a spicy mustard or something like that, or a Dijon mustard, something like that?”

Mr. Jacobsen then noted that MSNBC - the network given the privilege of covering the Great Presidential Burger Buy - ignored the condiment selection, humorously suggesting a cover-up by the friendly network.

“The cover-up is getting deeper,” Mr. Jacobsen wrote of Dijongate, linking to a video of the footage from MSNBC. “Here is an MSNBC website version of the video in which they cut off the audio just before the mention of Dijon mustard. The Hell Burger theme of the coverage doesn’t sound so tough when it’s topped off with Grey Poupon.”

Sean Hannity, meanwhile, joked on Fox News that Mr. Obama reminded him of the hoity-toity, Rolls-Royce-owning Grey Poupon fan from that brand’s commercials in the 1980s.

Perhaps not quite picking up on the humor, left-wing bloggers responded with apoplectic rage toward both criticism of the president and criticism of Dijon mustard. The liberal blog Crooks and Liars called it the “latest right-wing lunatic smear about Obama,” while foodie haven Serious Eats responded, “Dijon Mustard/Grey Poupon Is Not Elitist.”

Kraft Foods, owner of Grey Poupon and a line of Dijon mustards, agrees. Capitalizing on the publicity given this faux controversy, it released an open letter calling on Mr. Obama to “pardon” those who love a little spice to their sandwiches.

“People, in general, are looking to add more interesting flavor to their lives,” says Christie Crouch, the brand manager for Grey Poupon. “At Grey Poupon, and with Dijon mustard in general, we’ve always stood for finer-quality things and more interesting and engaging flavors and tastes.”

Spicy mustard has certainly become more, er, widespread as the American palate has expanded; Dijons are now available in almost 90 percent of grocery stores and have become common condiments in many cafes and restaurants across the land.

“About 70 percent of people who use Grey Poupon use it on things like sandwiches and hot dogs and other simple sandwiches: bologna, ham, turkey, etc.,” Miss Crouch explains. “It’s an opportunity for a very simple food experience to become more flavorful and interesting.”

This isn’t the first time the president has come under fire for his epicurean choices. During the Iowa primary, Mr. Obama complained about the price of arugula at Whole Foods while on a farm.

Critics saw two gaffes for the price of one with Mr. Obama’s gripe: Not only did his choice of leafy vegetable - the decidedly blue-state arugula - reinforce the image that he was a limousine liberal, but at the time, there were none of the high-end, health-conscious Whole Foods stores in the entire Hawkeye state.

But is spicy mustard really in the same category as the fancy lettuce that caused so much consternation?

It’s fair to say that yellow mustard remains the most popular condiment derived from the mustard seed: French’s Yellow mustard is purchased by 69 percent of all American households in any given year (and that’s just one brand); it’s the flavor of choice for both McDonald’s and Burger King; your local hot-dog vendor keeps it on hand without fail.

There’s little doubt, however, that brown mustards have grown in popularity in recent years. What bratwurst isn’t improved by a dash of the spicy stuff? Sure, Grey Poupon may have a slightly silly name, but few will deny its versatility or taste.

Ironically, the spicy stuff could be considered more American than its plainer cousin. French’s - by far the most popular purveyor of yellow mustard, outselling all competitors put together - is owned by British company Reckitt Benckiser. Grey Poupon, meanwhile, is owned by all-American Kraft. Plus, it makes a great spread and a handy ingredient in a variety of recipes.

Just ask Mr. Obama’s predecessor, George W. Bush.

What’s one of the ingredients in his and Laura Bush’s deviled-eggs recipe? 1 tablespoon of Dijon mustard.

Perhaps brown mustard is the condiment of choice for Purple America after all. Bridging the partisan divide might just start in the refrigerator - and Republicans looking to rebuild a broken coalition are ill-served alienating potential allies for their sandwich choices.

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