17 Jan 2013

Provence And A Tale of Truffles

I never like to miss the truffle market over New Year… not only because truffles are the most delectable treat but also because I love the charged and dramatic atmosphere in the market… Buyers and sellers… demanding the best quality, scrambling for the highest price… It’s old school bartering, clandestine negotiations and delightfully Provencal… The faces amongst the crowds of people who flock to buy, to sell or just to look… (apart from the spectators like me) are unique… Wiley, weathered, cheeky and purposeful… men on a mission… and it is mostly men… I don’t think I have ever seen any women trading truffles.

The market we visit is in Richerenches in the region of the Vaucluse… mostly, it’s a wholesale market where ‘middle men’ come to buy truffles and later on-sell them to restaurants. I suppose we could call them truffle representatives… The local farmers come to the market with their truffles, in their backpacks or their buckle down satchels, looking for the best prices. The buyers park their cars on one particular avenue, nose in… they open up their boots which are equipped with weighing scales… and business begins. The sellers line up behind the cars… prices, like Chinese whispers, pass between them and so the business of buying and selling is done. It’s quiet, effective and over before you know it.

If you want to buy a truffle there are two ways to go about it… from a certified seller on the main street… who is licensed… or you can try and find a local farmer, on the quiet and strike up a deal… This needs to be done before he manages to off load his precious loot to the wholesale buyers up in the ‘car park’… It isn”t necessarily any cheaper… but if you like a little ‘cloak and dagger’… a bit of an adventure… this is the way. Of course there is always a risk… The weight is a question of trust… and you have to know your truffles in order to ascertain their quality.

This year, by chance, the farmer that sold us his truffles, had a delightful tale to tell…

Once upon a time the father of four little girls bought four large fields not far away from the village of Richerenches. On these fields he planted oak tress… the kind that were renowned for producing truffles. These fields and these trees were to be the dowries for each of his daughters when they married. Their fortune, he hoped, would be made from truffles… By the time his daughters were of marriageable age, the oaks had matured and as luck would have it, the truffles were abundant… The girls all married and their father presented each of his sons-in-law with a parcel of land, mature oak trees and the further promise of truffles.

‘Our’ farmer was one of those sons-in-law… and he had been coming to the market every year since he married. His father-in-law had long since died but the oaks continued to yield… the truffles were prolific on his plot of land… and ‘our’ farmer was forever grateful.

All true …

You can imagine how I loved to hear his story… the romance of it… I could imagine him in his field, with his dog… digging up the truffles and at the same time relishing his great fortune… silently praising his wife and congratulating his father-in-law for such presence of mind … and no doubt giving himself a little pat on the back for his excellent choice of wife…

He was a delightful man and his truffles were superb… made only the more delicious because each heavenly slice, each tasty morsel… had that little bit of personal history… that dash of romance…

There are so many ways to enjoy truffles… in omelettes, with scrambled eggs… on toast with lashings of french butter and flaky sea salt… or in a risotto… but my very favourite is a simple pasta… My son is an excellent cook and this is how he makes it… xv

PASTA with TRUFFLES

First Things First

Do not clean the truffles until they are ready for use… Store them in an airtight container, wrapped in kitchen paper… make sure to change the paper every day as the idea is to keep them as dry as possible)

***

You will need…

1 truffle

1 packet of Spaghetti or Tagliatelle of choice… Serves 3/4

Approx 150ml Cream (single or pouring)

Ground Pepper and Sea Salt

***

Preparation

Wash the truffle quickly in cold water… never soak… soggy is the enemy of the truffle…

Scrub the truffle with a wire brush and be sure to remove all excess dirt… This can take a while and is painstaking… but critical…

Slice finely using a good truffle slicer  (if you don’t have one you can find one here )

Keep the truffles to one side

Into a small saucepan pour the cream and heat but don’t boil

Add in the truffle slices, saving enough aside to garnish each portion

***

Cook the pasta until al dente and drain well

Add the cream and truffle sauce to the empty pasta saucepan, throw the pasta back in and mix well together

Add lots of pepper and coarse sea salt

Serve on individual pasta plates  (these are my standbys)

and top with slices of fresh truffle and a few flakes of the sea salt  (this is the one I always use)


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50 Comments

Catherine

I am going to a truffle market on Saturday in Villeneuve Minervois. I have never seen anyone trying to sell from a car trunk or coat pocket around here. I don’t think this region draws the truffle middlemen–it’s a long slog to Paris, and even to Marseilles, from here. The market is more for locals. They may only buy three or four truffles a year (a small one can go a long way), and, to encourage them to buy without fear of being ripped off, there is an official who inspects the truffles to ensure none are too old (they are fresh for only about 10 days, and you don’t want to buy one on its eighth day), and that nobody tries to pass off a rock for a truffle. The price around here this year is €1,000 per kilo. The truffle sellers have a line of tables set up, with their little scales and tied sacks of certified truffles. A shotgun is fired, the rope holding back the crowd is dropped, and the frenzy of dealing begins. I usually buy a smallish one for around €25 or €30, and it will perfume our meals for a week.

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Vicki

This year the truffles at Richerenches were slightly less… around 850 -950 per kilo… the year before they were about 1000.. I am not sure why they were marginally cheaper this year. Your market sounds like great fun.. I would love to see it…
I am feeling hungry just thinking truffles..:) They are the most extraordinary ‘things’ aren’t they?…

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miss b

What a wonderful story about the farmer! I certainly would love to visit the market at this time of year and witness all these exchanges. I once read about a pizza with truffle slices on the top but I think your simple, creamy pasta dish would be a far better way to enjoy the flavour.

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Anita Rivera

Oh Vicki, you are playing my song here…..there is NOTHING like watching and hearing a trade at the marché, especially in PROVENCE! The thrill of the hunt and watching it in action is one of my best memories from France. When my husband met me in Nice and as we traveled up the Perigord and entered into black truffle territory, we shall never forget our beloved SARLAT and the market there. This pasta dish is on my list of meals to make this year. It is one of those multi-sensory experiences that one must have (if you love the earthy smells and tastes) before you die!!!!!!!!

Thank you for always bringing us French Essence! Anita

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The Enchanted Home

I find this sooooo fascinating! I would love to visit this market one day…how fun!! I remember seeing a special on it on TV, and was totally captivated and mesmerized, and they talked about how China of all people is getting in on the action…but that the real foodies will only buy from France, duh! We went to a truffle tasting dinner about 2 years ago which was soooo amazing, so wonderfully delicious and decadent. I have ever since then been captivated. Fun post!

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Vicki

Those truffle dinners are amazing… we went to a ten course lunch last year… could hardly get home!!
France I love you… but you are doing nothing for my weight!! ;))

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Gerrie

I just started reading Joanne Harris’s Five Quarters of an Orange which takes place in Provence and discusses truffles and other delicacies – she is the author of Chocolat (loved the movie) – you may want to check it out. Your posting reminded me of the books.

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Karen in CT

YUM YUM YUM … other than in a restaurant, the closest I get to a truffle is the oil, which is great in mashed potatoes .. among other things. Still expensive, but less tricky. Wonderful story.

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Vicki

Truffle oil is delicious… and it’s a great substitute… A little spaghetti a drop or two of truffle oil mixed in with olive oil.. a shaving of fresh parmesan… and divine! The trick with truffle oil is to use the best quality but to use it very sparingly…

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cinzia robbiano

Please, never use cream with pasta and truffles…the only ingredient admitted is butter

and…In Italy, the best way to taste truffle is on fried eggs…try it!
bon appetit!

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Vicki

I agree butter is also delicious… but I have to say that this recipe is sensational… I have the extra pounds to prove it..:)

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Lorrie

I love this story. That farmer (the father) had a lot of love and foresight. What a wonderful gift to his daughters (and sons-in-law).

I’ve never tasted a truffle, but someday, I will. Your son’s recipe sounds delicious.

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Vicki

He really charmed me… and he was so proud of the derivation of his truffles too… :)

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hopflower

It is the old European way to provide for future generations. Such a loving way to approach life.

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Vicki

I wish we were all more mindful of future generations… sometimes life just isn’t all about the now… :)

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Veronica Roth

I love the little story Vicki. When I first met a truffle it was at Cordon Bleu in my first semester of studies (I was 19 I think). I’ve loved them ever since. Every year I make sure I bring one or two back from Europe.

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Vicki

Cordon Bleu.. that must have been a wonderful experience… :) I am sure you will dream up some wonderful ways to prepare your truffles…

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Whatisinmyworld

Thank you for the lovely story and taking me on a mini journey.I am inspired. Today I will stop by my local French epicurean store and see if he has truffles in from France and create your son’s pasta dish this weekend. Also, I need to spend time in Provence in the Fall and Winter…..I will put that on my bucket list.

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cindy hattersley

There is nothing I love more in this world than truffles! Loved this post and do read five quarters of the orange if you have not. It is one of my absolute all time favorites!

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susan allen

vicki i declare what a great post BUT i could hardly wait till the end to see you beautiful plate filled with the truffle dish and it was no where to be found goodness darlin, you can’t do that to us!!!! i enjpy you so much waaaay over here in alabama thanks for all you share you take me away from the ole south for a few mintues almost everyday i want to be YOU!! or at least aspire to be like you what amazing things you bring to us….

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Vicki

We ate it all too quickly, Susan… Actually I said to Paddy..we should photograph this… and as he whisked the plates away… couldn’t let it get cold… he said, “too late, next time…:)”..

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La Contessa

WHAT A LOVELY as YOU said ROMANTIC story!The daughters, the trees, the son~in~laws…………..oh I love it too!I donot think I have ever had a truffle from the forest……….OH SHAME!Since your SONS pasta recipe looks doable I just need to find a TRUFFLE here in CALIFORNIA!Your son is very handsome but he can cook too!Some lucky GAL will find him soon!!In fact , they are probably lined up!!!!!!!!!!Beautiful story…thanks for sharing.
XXX

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24/7 in France

I just went to a local truffle market and will be posting photos soon, too – such a fun and iconically French event(I ever saw a truffle hunting dog demonstration)!

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Donna Baker

I live on acreage and my house is wreathed in oak trees. And yet, I don’t think truffles grow in Oklahoma. I did get to taste my first slice in Paris and it was as good as I had heard.

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Vicki

I don’t think they are the same variety … sadly… I have oaks on our farm… but no truffles either…:)

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Lila Moonlight

I enjoyed this post so much and couldn’t help commenting ( i follow your beautiful blog on bloglovin for few years now but comment seldomly ) as I am so passionate about truffles. We are planning to revisit Provence this june with friends and just today I was telling her that a dinner in Chez Bruno in Lourges is a must. That truffle menu dinner we had there is one of the most unforgettable evenings for me. My mouth is watering already although I had a big steak with truffle flavoured balsamic vinegar tonight :) and one question about lavender fields, are there some favourites of yours, some special ones not to miss? Lavender is another passion of mine, I love its color, smell and view so much. Last bloomed lavender field I saw was in Kaikoura in New Zealand, and in Provence we have been always in mid May when the fields are still green, so this time we plan late June so that we can enjoy endless lavender fields :) thanks for all the inspiration and beautiful frenchness you share with us :)

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Vicki

The lavender fields around Sault are truly spectacular… as is the Abbaye de Senanque outside of Gordes… they are where I would recommend a visit… Timing is always difficult .. but last year, the lavender was flowering at the end of June… so that should be perfect… Late June and the first week of July are generally when the buds are at their brightest…

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Lila Moonlight

Thank you very much for the tips, revisiting AdS near Gordes was in my list, I am adding also the Sault area now :) you have a lovely Sunday as well :)

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Andi

I hate to say it, but this is nearly the only thing that draws me into wanting to visit the South of France!

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Vintage Finds

Love the tales of France! My husband loves truffles, and sadly I do not. But I will trust the recommendation from you, and although I have never tried before will prepare something he thinks is delish! Have filed this one. Thanks!

Jennifer.
x

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Vicki

I think he will enjoy this recipe…:) You can substitute mushrooms if you prefer… but then I am thinking you may not like those if you don’t like the taste of truffles…:)

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Gerry Ventura

We were in Provence in November. Timed it for the opening date of the truffle ceremonies in Richerenches. Market, ceremony and actually going truffle hunting with a dog named Gina…and the hunters, jean Pierre and Jean Luc. We. We’re the only people on the hunt and Gina found us some wonderful truffles. A vintner introduced us to this way of eating them: slice a round of Brie in half, cover with sliced truffles and then put the top back on. Wrap over night and then serve with your favorite aperitif. We actually bought a truffle aperitif at the market made from white wine and truffle juice. Very good. Will try your pasta recipe next time I have truffles. Love your blog!

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