Cutting the mustard in the specialty food industry
By Tim Kalinowski
Luco Farms in Lethbridge has been gaining a reputation for creating quality mustard products in southern Alberta. The family has been in the mustard-growing business for over two generations, and became one of the first farm families to grow oriental mustard on the prairies in the mid-1960s.
“Oriental mustard is one seed we have been growing for many years,” confirms Luco Farms owner Robert Luco. “It started with my dad back in 1964. He was one of the pedigreed seedgrowers who was given the Lethbridge 22A oriental mustard from the Lethbridge Research Station to start propagating. We have just kind of been a staple of our farm ever since.
“Oriental mustard is primarily grown for the Asian markets,” adds Luco. “Outfits like Sakai here in town use a lot of oriental mustard, and they grind it into flour or whatever and ship it overseas.
“It has a unique flavour to it. It has sort of a horse radishy, wasabi flavour to the seed. In one of the products we make, we use almost pure oriental mustard seed and people when they taste it think we have added horse radish and wasabi to it.”
Luco says his family actually started speaking about potential ways they could bring value-added processes to their mustard operation over 30 years ago, but Luco and son Ben didn’t really start actively experimenting with the idea until several years later.
At the time, the family had rented out the farm and Luco was working in California as a management consultant in the Sacramento area. They began enlisting the help of top local chefs there to figure out their future flavour. They experimented with making blended mustards at first. Basically, Luco admits they started throwing everything in but the kitchen sink.
“The chefs would get a hold of some of these combinations we were trying and say, ‘No, stop. What we want is a pure, clean product we can use in our recipes we can flavour the way we want,’” recalls Luco. “So we just backed off the whole thing of putting additives or flavourings in the mustard and really focused down on making clean, healthy products that have no additives in them.
“Our mustards are pure mustard, sea salt, vinegar and water.”
When his wife, son and himself returned to the Lethbridge area five-years-ago to take up residence on the farm once more, the Lucos decided to take their experiment to the next level, and using mustard grown on their farm and other local farms, began aggressively developing their product lines. They now have six different mustard lines:
Prairie Flower, made from pure yellow mustard, Prairie Sun, which is a mix of yellow and brown mustard, Prairie Lightning, made from pure oriental mustard seed, Prairie Fire, which has a strong horseradish/ wasabi flavour and has a definite volatility to the taste. Prairie Sweet and Hot, a mix of yellow, brown and oriental mustard seed and the only product which uses additional flavour additives, and Prairie Spirit, a creamy, German-style mustard.
“We started to get into the farmers’ markets to test our products here in Lethbridge, and they were an instant success,” says Luco. “It’s just been growing ever since. We start right from the seed. We wash it and clean it, and then we grind with a granite press from there.”
Luco says making these mustard products has been an absolute thrill, and the company is poised for more growth going forward. Luco has high hopes for the future.
“It has been just a wonderful move back here,” states Luco. “We built a new home on the edge of the coulee overlooking the farm, and my son Ben also has a house on the farm. It has just been a positive move for all of us … It’s a wonderful treat to be able to work with your son. We’re small, but it has given us an opportunity to work with the customers and take their feedback and incorporate it right back into the products we are making. We are creating stuff people like.”
For more information on where to purchase Luco Farms mustards call (403)-892-6533 or email email@example.com.