Ground to Gastronomy
The Black Diamond of Provence
From five centimetres underground to picturesque market stalls and into delicious gourmet truffle recipes.
I am not referring to the chocolate delight, but instead to one of the most expensive and luxurious ingredients in haute cuisine –in the world- The Provençal Black Truffle.
But what are they and what makes truffles so special?
The Provençal Black Truffle, Tuber Melanosporum, is the underground fruiting body (spore shooter) of the Mycorrhizal fungi – a system that ensures the survival of the majority of land plants -on earth through nutrient cycling and drought tolerance. These rare gems can grow to approximately 50 grams each.
Not the most appealing of diamonds I have ever seen: It is roundish and knobbly in appearance, blackish in colour. Sliced, we see squiggly white veins and we detect a pungent, earthy scent. But…its taste is incomparable!
Did you know that truffles contain SUPER health benefits?
We use truffles sparingly and further research is needed to support claims but studies have shown that they contain:
- High levels of antioxidants which are antibacterial, help terminate cancer cells, reduce inflammation.
- Easily digestible natural proteins. All the nine essential amino acids that you need.
- Vitamins and minerals: Vitamin C, phosphorus, sodium, calcium, magnesium, manganese and iron.
And my favourite excuse for eating them…
- They were described in traditional medicine to be an aphrodisiac…I hope this is still true!
Where do they come from and how do they grow?
Once upon time, truffles were believed to have been a product of thunder and lighting, warmth and water in the soil. They were deemed the children of the earth…till people got serious and realised it was (ahem) a mushroom.
Not only does the chocolate truffle try to claim its name…
Another given name is the Périgord Truffle. The black truffle, in fact, favours the fertile, limestone land and hot, dry climate of Provence, with 70-80% coming from the Vaucluse department –not the Dordogne region!
The subterranean mushroom grows between the humus and soil, in a symbiotic relationship with the root system of its host trees, namely; oaks, cherry, elm, pecans, beech, hazels, shrubs, Cistus and some varieties of pine…but mostly oaks!
Fungivores can detect the odour of volatile organic compounds and pheromones the fungi release when in contact with certain flora and fauna and play their role in spore dispersal…et voila!…the growth of new truffles!
Nowadays, truffles are cultivated by transplanting seedlings or planting acorns found around known host trees. During the 19th century, the trufficulture boomed till the age of industrialisation which saw an exodus of farmers to the major cities. Again, the newly acquired trufficulture knowledge was lost and production fell with the lack of male workforce -due to the world wars.
Since 1945, the amount of truffles has dropped and the price has rocketed. Techniques are now picking up again, with 80% of production from farms, however they will still cost you an arm and a leg…or a wild boar… making these stinky, chunky diamonds extremely prestigious.
We’re going on a Truffle Hunt…
(I hope you know the children’s book: We’re Going on a Bear Hunt). A fun activity for kids, and adults alike, to sniff out these treasures!
I advise you to go to Truffle Chasse en Provence in Cadenet when you visit Provence for a hands on experience of hunting for your own precious prizes.
The hunting season is between November and March. Trust me…Wrap up warm as the Mistal wind is blowing. They are hard to find and farmers tend to use one of these techniques:
- Truffle Dog: Must be trained but easier to control, naturally good sniffer.
- Truffle Hog: Keen, innate ability to detect truffles (truffles and the sex pheromone of boar saliva contain a similar compound), tendency to gobble them for herself.
Want to give it whirl yourself?
- Truffle Fly: At sunrise, look for a yellowish fly buzzing around the base of host trees. Waft it away with a stick and look for a ‘mark’ -the ground will be lifting slightly. Scratch the earth away and find your hidden treasure.
Can’t be bothered with all that? Pop to the market.
Remember…Between November and March.
World biggest truffle markets: Aups, Carpentras, Richerenches.
Also popular truffle markets: Apt, Avignon, Bauduen, Bruis, Cabrière-d’Avignon, Chorges– most towns will be selling them too.
Here’s some advice on picking out truffles…Whilst on the market, choose firm, fresh truffles with no bruising. Pretend to be an expert and give it a good sniff and an approving nod.
Here’s for your arm and a leg… They have been sold for 2000 Euros the kilo, but don’t fret; you can buy them for between 500 and 1000 Euros the kilo (psst)…you won’t need that much anyhow.
Now for some tips on what to do with them
- Store fresh truffles in the fridge, preferably in a wicker basket, paper bag or bowl covered with a cloth, for up to a week.
- Alternatively, you can cover them with white wine or Madeira and store them for longer in an air tight container or freeze them.
- I scrub mine with an old toothbrush and water to remove the earth that is stuck between its knobbles.
- Truffles are generally used raw but can be heated to make a stock, concentrate or a juice –not too sure about that!
Not being one of the best chefs on the planet, it is a relief to know Truffle recipes are crazily easy!
- You can grate them directly onto: salads, stuffing, sauces, pasta dishes, rice and eggs. Use sparingly as they really do add a powerful flavour.
- You can slice them thinly and insert them into foie gras, pâtés, chicken, fowl and duck. Last Christmas we stuffed the turkey – in hind sight we should have put in more, let’s see how rich I’m feeling at the Christmas market this year!
Not visiting Provence during the Truffle Season?
There is a ton of truffle infused products in specialist shops and even in supermarkets. But check that it’s made from real truffles and not the synthetic flavour compound.
Signorini TARTUFI is a good shop for these, found in Vaison-la-Romaine, St-Rémy-de-Provence, Fontaine-de-Vaucluse and L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue. There’s also a nice new shop in Puymeras, called the Plantin.
You can get truffle oil to drizzle over your pasta or salad, truffle salt, cheese, mustard, pastes, powders, tapenade, butter, breadsticks, soya sauce, sauces, soufflés, charcuterie…Truffle sugar and honey! Blargh!
I’ll share my husband’s secret recipe with you… it’s a winner at dinner parties…Click here to see the recipe
Let’s take the easy route –the restaurants
Popular restaurants featuring the Black Diamond of Provence are in Richerenches, Aups, Carpentras.
But I would like you to meet Philippe Galas… Friend, chef and owner of the superb restaurant La Chevalerie in Malaucène. Philippe has had a distinguished career in several famous French restaurants and has been mentored by Michelin star chefs.
Over a glass of wine he shares a few simple truffle tips…
- Toast sliced, fresh bread
- Cut the truffle into slices
- Add a slice of truffle on a piece of bread
- Drizzle Provençal olive oil over it
- Add a sprinkle of pepper and Camargue salt
This is also the perfect side dish for scrambled eggs with truffles, ideal if you have many guests. Philippe suggests you cook the eggs on a low heat, stirring continuously.
Perfect scrambled eggs with truffles:
-3 eggs per person
-10g of black truffle per person
-1 tablespoon of double cream per person
- Place the eggs (do not break them) and truffles in the same Tupperware overnight (the eggs will become infused… oh la la)
- Beat the eggs and the grated truffle together
- Cook the eggs in a bain marie (double boiler) with a round-bottomed mixing bowl
- Add the double cream
Last tip: To conclude your meal, I recommend truffle cheese:
- Cut Brie in half, stuff sliced truffle inside and bake for a couple of minutes…Mmm.
Fancy trying some more Provençal recipes?
And it’s over to you!
Tempted to stay in truffle region?
Contact us for more details or have a look at our other beautiful properties in Provence.