The Truffle  November 02 2017, 0 Comments

The Provencal name for the truffle is "rabasse". A more popular synonyms is "black diamond". 

The truffle is a type of subterranean mushroom, growing around the roots of plants, mainly oak trees and sometimes lavender or thyme. A typical truffle farm (“truffière”) today is a plantation of oak trees, either hidden in the wilderness or well fenced and guarded during the winter. Average sized truffles generally weight between 30 and 60 grams.

The Midi - Southern France - has the sweet limestone soils and dry hot weather that truffles need to grow. In 1900 truffles were used by most people, and on many occasions. Nowadays, they are a rare delicacy reserved for the rich, or used on special occasions.

The price of black truffle varies between 500 to 1000 € per kg (545 $ per lbs) ! The most expensive white truffle of Alba is sold between 5000 to 7000 euros per kilogram (3800 $ per lbs)!

The truffle is a fungus that grows underground. It forms in Spring between April and June.

The ideal climate for truffles is:

Winter with nights at -5°(23°F), and days between 1O° (50°F) and 14°C (57°F)

Spring with alternating periods of damp and heat.

Hot and dry Summer interrupted by thunderstorms, especially between August 1 and 15.

An Autumn which is not too wet.

 

Where can Truffles be found ?

 Truffles are found mainly in Provence (Southeast France) but you can also find truffles in Perigord (Southwest France) and Burgundy (Bourgogne). The southeast of France (in the regions Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur and the department of the Gard) produce 70% of French truffles. In a normal year about 50 tonnes of black truffles are obtained.  

The most popular market towns in Provence for truffles are Apt, Aups, Carpentras, Richerence and Valréas.

 

When can you find Truffles ?

Truffles are harvested in winter, beginning in November and continuing until the following March. You can find the days for the main truffle markets on internet. You could try to find them in the forest yourself but be careful and cautious about the place you are looking at. You may encounter an angry owner! 

Contrary to popular legend, truffles can be cultivated. As early as 1808, there were successful attempts to cultivate them, known in French as “trufficulture”  

People had long observed that truffles were growing among the roots of certain trees, oak trees in particular, and scientific research has established that truffles live in symbiosis with the host tree.

In 1808, Mr Joseph Talon, from Apt in southern France, had the idea of sowing acorns collected at the foot of oak trees known to host truffles in their root system. The experiment was successful. Years later, truffles were found in the soil around the oak trees grown from those acorns.

In 1847, Auguste Rousseau from Carpentras (Vaucluse) planted 7 hectares (17 acres) of oak trees again from acorns found on the soil around truffle-producing oak trees, and he subsequently obtained large harvests of truffles. He received a prize at the 1855 World Fair in Paris.

In the 20th century, with the growing industrialisation of France and the subsequent rural exodus, many of these truffle fields (“truffières”) returned to the wilderness. The two WW Wars caused serious damages, both in truffle areas and human victims who were harvesting truffle fields.

 

Growing Truffles

It takes about 40 years for a wild oak tree to mature before truffles can be harvested. However you can obtain specially treated young trees that will  mature in about 10 years. In the larger truffle markets you'll find professional truffle-tree vendors that can provide you with the young trees and will give you good advises to grow truffles. 

 

Truffle Finders

The best truffle finder is the pig, with an extremely sensitive nose for truffles and very keen on them (like us!)

The pigs are trained, so they at least give the human a better chance to retrieve the truffle before they eat them. The pig has another advantage in that, once its truffle-sniffing days are over, it can be served in a cassoulet dish, probably without truffles!

For many years now dogs have been trained to sniff out the truffles. A good truffle dog is
worth his or her weight in black diamonds. Some truffles dogs have an exchange rate in some areas of Provence and are “rented” to find truffles (generally for 3-4 hours). An easy way for the owner to earn income! 

 

 

A very old technique to find truffles is also, to follow the flies ! (“à la mouche”). Looks for an insect, a big fly  with long green wings. That insect lays its eggs in the truffle ! Take a stick and move the ground under oak trees. If some big flies take off from the area, you may be above a truffle. Get down and sniff for the scent of truffle! 

 

Calisson by Gilles tips: 

Calisson by Gilles gives you a secret from Provençal hunters who are used to hunt with their dogs and look for  truffles at the same time. Their also train their dogs to find truffles in the forest. How ? 

After the birth of the puppies, Provençal hunters scrub truffles on the nipples of the mother when she feeds her pups. Hence the puppies will remember it during their whole life. In their brain the scent of truffle is associated with feeding time. They will naturally track truffles through the forest.

 

Fake Truffles

Chinese truffle has the look of the truffle but not the taste. It doesn't have the same scent but if you place some Chinese fungus with real French truffles, the Chinese fungus will absorb enough of the smell to fool most truffle’ amateurs.

 

Cooking Truffles

The truffle is called "diamond of the kitchen”. Truffle has a very strong flavor, and is used in paper-thin slices in a variety of recipes. The truffle is easy to cook with, but you must know how to make it shine in a dish. 

A fresh truffle is not cooked the same way a preserved one is. The fresh truffle is a living mushroom, which gives off its perfume for several days. The preserved one is a dead mushroom, which will keep its perfume for about 1h30 after being taken out of its container. The best way to use them is with eggs, cream, butter or a béchamel sauce. 

All preparations necessitate a minimum time of contact between the truffle and other ingredients. Most common dishes are a Truffle omelette or scrambled eggs, various recipes of truffle salads, cooked with shrimps or various soup recipes. All very tasty!

 

Glossary of Truffle French vocabulary

rabasse - Provençal for truffle

rabassier - Provençal for the truffle hunter

trufficulteur - professional truffle grower

truffière - truffle plantation

le brûlé - the "burnt" area beneath an oak where truffles grow

cave - the hole where the truffle grows

 

 

About The Author:

Gilles Cailleaux is the Owner & Master Confectioner at By Gilles, an online French candy store based in Orange County, California. They sell traditional French confections called Calissons from Provence. Gilles is always ready to share his 25 years plus experience of candy making and baking with everyone and want to hear about your experience with his calissons. Gilles and his team are sensitive about taste and harmony. They prepare your packages with special care and attention.