During dinner under the stars on a balmy September night near La Garde-Adhémar in the French region of Drôme Provençale, our hosts regaled us with captivating tales of a local treasure. From that moment, as we journeyed from Grignan to Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux, we voraciously collected snippets of information about a holy grail of gourmet gastronomy, la truffe noire
– the black truffle.
Here are 10 funghi facts (or Tuber truths) we picked up along the way:
- The Tricastin / Pays de Grignan area is the world's main source of black truffles.
- Like mushrooms, truffles belong to neither plant nor animal kingdoms. They reproduce through spores.
- In France, the word truffe can also mean a person who is naïve (a polite way of putting it).
- During the Middle Ages, la truffe noire was considered a no-no by the Church. As they were “black as a damned soul”, eating truffles was considered to be dabbling with the devil.
- They exude an aroma of dry mushrooms, dank forests and humus – not the chickpea and tahini dip, but the organic whiff from natural woodland waste.
- Dogs or pigs are used to snuffle out truffles, with dogs being preferred. Pigs are more reluctant to hand over their haul.
- A hundred years ago, France produced 1,320 tonnes of black truffles each year. Now annual production is down to 20 to 46 tonnes.
- They're reputed to be an aphrodisiac. One school of thought was that, as sows were especially attracted to black truffles, they must exude a similar aroma to male pigs. That seems to me to be a roundabout way of saying that men are like pigs.
- Black truffles are harvested between November and March. Although best eaten fresh, they freeze well and so can be enjoyed all year round.
- Truffles and eggs go well together. A local recipe for Oeufs Saint-Valentin involves putting 20g of black truffle and four eggs in a sealed container for 48 hours. After that, soft-boil the eggs as normal. When you crack the shells, both aroma and taste are intoxicating.
Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux, the culmination of Inntravel’s Secret Provence
journey on foot, is a mini truffe noire
kingdom. One walking route from the town follows a truffle trail, while the Maison de la Truffe et du Tricastin is a fascinating shrine to the black treasure, and a good place to pick up truffle-flavoured products. Expect to pay around €20 for 16g of canned black truffle, while a tub of truffle pâté should set you back €5.50.