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 packet of Spaghetti or Tagliatelle of choice… Serves 3/4
Approx 150ml Cream (single or pouring)
Ground Pepper and Sea Salt
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)