The wine and olives have been harvested, the wild mushrooms collected and the hunting season is in full swing. It's time to go after the truffles again! People start walking around the woods and vineyards looking for those elusive flies and bare spots under trees, poking with their "picouloun" in the moist earth for this most elusive of all tubers, called "tuber melanosporum" by botanists, "truffe" in French, "rabasse" in Provençal, truffles in English, sometimes also referred to as the Périgord truffle.
We admit, we are not a big fan of the truffle gourmet circus. The price/quality relationship is outrageous. We rarely eat it in restaurants, the few chefs who get it right normally are so stingy with the quantity of truffles that one has difficulty tasting it properly. You do notice the truffles mostly on the bill not on the plate. We rather get the small quantity we need from trusted friends who undertsnad what it is all about. Depending on the success of the hunt, the weather and the voracious appetite of wild boars in the woods, we receive our modest share each year at reasonable prices.
But we are fascinated with people's fascination about truffles. We like "La Messe des Truffes", the truffles mass at the church in Richerenches the 3rd Sunday each January. It is the mass of St.Antoine, the patron of the trufficulteurs(the farmers) and truffistes (the truffle traders).
First a word about the truffles found here. It is the black truffles, pungy and smelly not unlike Roquefort. It grows under green oak trees mostly, but also occassionally under hazelnut and olive trees. That is if the soil condition is right, if there is just the right amount of rainfall and if you can find it. It is invisible, a tuber buried in the earth. You have been told that under your trees must be truffles but nobody ever finds it? Well, you either got no truffle or someone else poached it.
Professional truffle hunters, mostly farmers doing it part time, nowadays use truffle dogs instead of truffle pigs. Dogs can be trained to find truffles, which they never eat. Pigs love truffle but the truffle hunters got tired wrestling with the pigs. There are of course bare spots under trees and a certain type of fly, who lays its eggs near truffles. That's how our friends do it; they have 50 plus years experience in it.
The Vaucluse and Southern part of the Drôme produce roughly 80% of all French truffles. No wonder the truffle market in Richerenches is the most touted one, Carpentras is a distant second and there are smaller markets in Valreas, Taulignan, Vaison-la-Romaine and some other places. Of course there is also the black market, payment in cash, no receipts, silence. So nobody knows how large the truffle harvest really is. Offical figures in France are between 30 - 60 tons a year depending on the weather.
We have been warned not to buy directly at the truffle markets. This is for experts only. Richerenches is for professionals mostly, but you can buy at the other markets. It is quite risky as you might end up buying a brumale truffle, called "Truffe Musquée" here, which grows at the same time, same area as the black truffles but is of much lower quality and taste.
Our impression after various visits to the truffles market in Richerenches: Don't! For more information click here.