The black diamonds of Drôme Provençale

Jack Montgomery, 24 March, 2019
Routefinder, photographer and keen foodie Jack Montgomery went in search of culinary treasure in a quiet corner of France, and snuffled out some truffle trivia...

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:
  1.  The Tricastin / Pays de Grignan area is the world's main source of black truffles.
  2.  Like mushrooms, truffles belong to neither plant nor animal kingdoms. They reproduce through spores.
  3.  In France, the word truffe can also mean a person who is naïve (a polite way of putting it).
  4.  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.
  5.  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.
  6.  Dogs or pigs are used to snuffle out truffles, with dogs being preferred. Pigs are more reluctant to hand over their haul.
  7.  A hundred years ago, France produced 1,320 tonnes of black truffles each year. Now annual production is down to 20 to 46 tonnes.
  8.  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.
  9.  Black truffles are harvested between November and March. Although best eaten fresh, they freeze well and so can be enjoyed all year round.
  10.  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.

Secret Provence

Hill-top villages, fields of lavender and vines, and ancient monuments surveying an undulating tapestry of green – Drôme Provençale is the Provence the French keep for themselves.
More about our self-guided walking holidays in Provence >
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