It’s black truffle season!
Since November the black truffle season has started (and will last until March).
South West France (Périgord) is commonly known as”the” place where black truffle is found, but the truth is that Vaucluse (roughly, from Ventoux to Luberon) produce 70% of this very special mushroom, named “Tuber Melonosporum”.
There is a great fun finding them with a hunter and his dog; hunting is called “cavage”, “rabasse” is the truffle and “rabassier” is the hunter. We know the last hunter of the region who does it in wild nature, not in plantations; it’s a nicer feeling during the experience. The truffle smell is… pungent, to stay polite, so you might get surprised the first time you get close to it…
It’s best prepared simply: grated on scrambled eggs, fresh pasta, on a green salad or thinly sliced on toasts (but you must respect the sacred order: toast + butter + a slice of black truffle + sea flower salt + a drop of olive oil). See how French are generous on the butter… “Richard, is this enough for the 3 of us?” – “Just enough!”
The second fun part is to attend the professional outdoor market, which is every Friday morning (9 AM) in Carpentras (Hotel Dieu), or every Saturday morning in Richerenches village (at the north-west of Ventoux); both are the most famous black truffle markets in France, where dealers, restauranteurs, and passionate people meet up.
The fun of it is to see its attendance at the entrance of the Hotel-Dieu before it starts, as it is composed of buyers (from all over France) and sellers (from 8 counties around Carpentras) who are local persons with bags full of black mushrooms; the smell is very strong, and discussions are animated on market price, rarity and quality of the mushroom this year…
One of the astonishing thing about truffle is that the selling & buying is all in cash, un-declared and legal! Sellers sell openly in the back of their car trunk, with an electronic scale and their truffles… It could also happen in a near cafe if you made an appointment with a seller you know: imagine yourself with your acquaintance, taking out his bag and electrical balance next to the coffees… as if he would openly sell drugs.
For that, you would want a minimum amount (50 or 100 euro) and mingle with them early, as officially, professional sellers are not supposed to sell to individuals (a separate market for individuals is located in front of the tourism office). However, prices are quite similar, and the market for individuals allows you to choose exactly the amount/quantity you want, whereas professionals would usually tend to sell their batch (the entire bag, because there are some good ones mixed with lesser interesting ones… and because they do not want to bother with retail).
At 9 AM, everyone enters into the inner courtyard of the Hotel-Dieu, and sellers and professional buyers would get into a space separated with fences. The sellers present their bag/batch, and buyers would go around to check, smell, touch, cut, negotiate and make deals. The sale is pretty quick, about 30mn. The ideal (Fri)day to attend (for the folklore) is in mid-November, at the official start of the season, when a procession with the back truffle fellowship (“Confrérie des Rabassiers du Comtat”) is walking from the tourism office to the Hotel Dieu.
Interesting things to know that bigger ones are not tastier, they just look more impressive; the truffle should be quite firm (not soft), its smell should be powerful but good; grate it a bit to see its (white) veins, which means it has not frozen. And it should be cleaned, otherwise, you’re paying earth at a high price. They are at their best in February, as they would be fully ripe.
Price wise, we could tend to think that sellers will often complain that “this year… there won’t be too many”, which would help them to justify a high price… It is true that the last summers were very dry, but they know when to water their oak trees or specific spots. Anyhow, the price would oscillate from 500 to 900 euro, depending on the quality of the truffle and on the time of the purchase (closer to year-end is more expensive because of the demand).
You shall keep your truffles in a hermetic container in a fridge, and you shall eat them within few days. Truffle does not last. If you freeze them (which is not recommended at all), once you take them out of the freezer, grate them right away.
A cooking tip: keep a few eggs one night or two in a hermetic box with your truffles, and the eggs will take the taste of the truffles. Your omelet/scrambled eggs will taste truffle without any grated truffle inside or on top!