In Provence, on a truffling weekend near Mount Ventoux, you can truly combine fine cuisine with the thrill of the hunt. A small crowd has gathered around the back doors of a run down Peugeot van parked outside a farm at the end of a road. Inside the van is the farmer, his face lined by the sun who opens the back doors and a scruffy dog comes out and pokes his nose out, he is Eric Jaumard’s dog, the guide that takes people truffle hunting . The dog is the hunter and is worth many times more than the van. He is a truffle hound and his very precious nose leads a group of international “gourmands” on a very productive search between the serried rows of green and white oaks for the black diamond. The farmer and his son ( Eric Jaumard) planted the trees over 30 years ago in a successful attempt to cultivate the mythologised ” Black Diamond”. The Hotel Crillon le Brave runs truffle & wine weekends from October to November as well as in the spring, http://www.crillonlebrave.com, It is a three nights accommodation including breakfast each day and dinner each day without drinks; the cost is 1,425 Euros.
The chef Philippe Monti worked at the Taillevent in Paris now cooks within sight of his birthplace , serving refined Provencal classics. Leg of Sisteron lamb ( the best in the region), which dangles for hours on a string above the open fire in the dining room and is served with an amazingly flavoured ratatouille, this dish is a popular on the menu. But during the truffles weekends , Polka’s truffles take center stage.
Monti explains that infusing is the key to using truffles and it works as well as with matched potatoes, butter, or even a jar of eggs, whose porous shells will soak up their aroma over four or five days. The aroma is truly intoxicating and you can see it reflects on each guest as their eyes roll backwards and dreamy sights exhale. The only rival to the black truffle is the white truffle found in Alba but native of Croatia. This truffle should be eaten raw.
Monti mentions that size has nothing to do with ripeness and that it maybe best to buy several smaller truffles than one large one (and they don’t ripen after picking them either). A secret for telling how ripe a truffle is , look inside and what you will discover is that the greater contrast between the white veins and the black flesh, the riper the truffle will be.
The optimum of ripeness is January to February which also coincides with the lowest prices, all of this after the high demands during the holidays. Truffles freeze very well- don’t wait to defrost them before using just shave them from their frozen state.
We have been eating them since the Middle Ages and truffles as well as oysters were a poor man’s food. The attention of the great chef of the 19th century altered the upper classes; this along with the forests scarcity that were lost to vines, has resulted in high prices. Experiments in cultivating truffles began in the 1970’s. Provence supplies 80 % of France’s truffles, they tend to grow better under oaks and in western France they prefer hazelnut. It can take 7 to 15 years for truffles to appear. Also a rough bark is the sign that an oak tree is mature enough to produce truffles but still no guarantee.
In brief it is very expensive, even a trained dog can cost you up to 5000 euros or a female pig who tends to confuse the aroma for the pheromone of a male pig.
Take all of this in consideration before deciding to grow truffles. A labor induced project.
Gourmet Tours 2015. Part of our Epicurean & cultural experiences.