As one does in winter in Provence, I recently went on a truffle hunt. Truffles are truly celebrated in these months across the region. Harvested from November through March, they are called the “Diamant Noir” (Black Diamond).
This particular farm and family have their “truffière” - truffle plantation - located in one of the centers of truffle territory in Provence: Carpentras (the town with one of the biggest truffle markets). The day began with a charming history of truffles recounted by a family who is three generations into the tradition…we stood around a crate of truffles, their scent emanating toward us, creating the impression we were smelling the history as much as hearing it.
Apparently, truffles were considered divine as early as 4000 BC in Syria. Greeks considered truffles as gifts from God - made from lightning. Their reputation took a turn for the worse in the Middle Ages when truffles were thought to be satanic, due to their association with pigs and their black coloring, not to mention the circle of burnt earth that signifies a truffle tree. At this point, they were only eaten by peasants and boiled like potatoes! It was under François I that they became desired anew and they became a very expensive commodity.
Generally a good wine year is a bad truffle year, and the inverse - related to rainfall and weather conditions. Hence, some wine growers in Provence try to cultivate both to cover their production…leaving less of their fate to the gods of weather.
There is a symbiotic relationship between a host tree and the spore of a truffle. Often truffle trees are oaks, hazel or chestnut. Truffles love limestone terrains (typical in Provence). This region is so well-suited to truffle growing, about 70% of French truffles are produced here.
We set off to walk in the crisp, sunny January morning air with one of the brothers and his very charming dog. She had been trained her whole life for this activity. Everything she eats has a bit of truffle in it, so her scent is cuspate. She waited patiently while the farmer explained the land and the trees, leaning forward in earnest, not taking her eyes off of him, ready for his command to start. As soon as she got it, she dashed off, as if there were a hundred other dogs vying for her truffles. Within just a few minutes it was clear she had found one and was digging passionately for it. In total, she found six truffles in a short while. Their farm seemed to be very fruitful.
We finished the day with wine from the domain and several courses of delicious food…all truffle themed.
If you find yourself in Provence and want to truffle hunt, here are links to two good options:
La Truffe de Ventoux | Les Frères Jaumard
If you want to purchase truffles at the market, there is a designated market in Carpentras on Friday mornings from mid-November through mid-March. Keep in mind when truffle hunting at a market: a firmer truffle is a better truffle and one should carry cash if they want to buy…nothing else is accepted. The average price for a kilo of truffles can be more than €1,000. More often they are several hundred euros per kilo. There is no denying the power of the truffle here…the delicacy of Provence: the Black Diamond.