July 29, 2010 12 Comments
When we first started coming to France for holidays over 30 years ago, we had already heard about truffles but had never had the chance to try them. These sought after fungi, described in France as “diamonds of the kitchen” are a serious delicacy in Europe, especially in Spain, France and Italy. Most truffle hunters use pigs to sniff them out, but they then have to wrestle the pig for the truffle, so there has been a recent shift to using trained dogs for truffle hunting as unlike pigs, dogs don’t find the truffle to be an irresistible treat, When these little nuggets can retail in London at over £2000 per kg, they are too precious to become pig fodder.
Victoria and I first tried truffles at an Italian restaurant in London called La Famiglia. She had ordered a relatively standard entrée, and I had decided that I would try the angel-hair pasta with truffles. My first mouthful made me understand immediately what the fuss was all about … it was a taste sensation that was almost indescribable in its subtle intensity. I offered Victoria a taste, and her reaction was similar to mine, so much so that when I tried to take my depleted entree back I seriously worried about her stabbing me with her fork as I reached across the table. Despite the fact that we had mains still to come, we ordered more of this truffle delight. We could have sat there for the rest of the night focused on depleting their truffle supply.
When we moved to France, we knew that we would have to go to a truffle market and get one for ourselves, so last winter we packed up early one freezing cold morning and drove for over 2 hours to a little village called Saint Alvere in Perigord, which has a weekly truffle market during the months of December to February. As the market was due to start at 10.00am, we had to leave home at 7.30am just to make sure that we would be there on time.
We arrived to find about 100 people milling around a small building (about 20 X 10 metres) waiting for the doors to open.
When they did open at 10.00am we surged in with the crowd and started moving around amidst the French elbow-as-a-weapon mob checking out the truffles on offer on about 10 small trestle tables covered in white paper. The variety was enormous from small grayish nuggets to large black gleaming aristocrats, varying in price from €800-1300 per kg., depending on quality, shape, size and, I guess, smell, and had all been graded and priced beforehand … no haggling or negotiations (taking away some of the fun I thought).
At about 10.05 we realized that if we didn’t buy something quickly we would miss out, as the makeshift trestle tables were clearing quickly, so spying a remaining truffle about the size of a smallish nectarine, we handed over € 80 and received our black prize. By 10.10 it was all over, and we were back outside in the cold clutching our truffle in a little cellophane bag. After taking 2 hours to get there, the whole event had taken 10 minutes, and now we were facing a two hour drive back home.
We spied a small brasserie in the central square and decided that we may as well have a cup of coffee before heading back home. As we sat there nursing our coffee and moaning about the 2 hour drive still ahead, a noisy group arrived and deposited themselves down at the next table. Within minutes they were tucking into fresh truffle omelets and large glasses of red wine… the smell alone was enough to make us drool.
We quickly ordered the same and as we sat there at 10.30 in the morning having a truffle omelet breakfast with fresh baguette and a bottle of red wine, we realized that you just have to love a country where this is an accepted possibility of life. We were only driven out by the arrival of the lunch time crowd. The long drive home didn’t seem so bad after all.