Today was the truffle market at Moussoulens, just northwest of Carcassonne. The beauty above is the one that came home with me, ringing in at 25€ (the going price is 800€ per kilogram). It will perfume my meals for a week, and that includes a truffled risotto dinner I plan to have with a few friends.
It’s a glorious January day in the south of France. The Pyrénées gleam white along the southern horizon, their rugged peaks etched in fine detail by the sunshine. Not a cloud in the deep blue sky. A little cold–just above freezing in the morning, though the afternoon will be much warmer. Perfect truffle weather–nice and dry.
I got there too late to watch the truffle market open to the shot of a gun by the mayor, signaling the drop of the rope separating sellers and buyers. Most of the small truffles were gone already–the ones that remained were beauties, but expensive, at 800€ per kilogram. Of course, nobody short of a restaurant would buy a whole kilo of truffles. They stay good for just over a week. They work best in very simple recipes that let the black slivers get all the attention–risotto, eggs, pumpkin soup, even chocolate mousse. Truffles are more like a force than a flavor. They amplify other flavors, like chocolate. You get this sensation of earthy richness rather than an easy-to-identify taste like, say, orange or pepper or garlic. I guess that’s umami.
Because of Covid, only takeout food was permitted. You could get a full meal to go for 20€, if you ordered in advance. The menu:
Pumpkin-chestnut velouté (thick, velvety soup) with truffle cream
Quiche with Bréton scallops, bethmale (a hard cow’s milk cheese from Pyrénées of Ariège, the department just south of Carcassonne) and Cabardès truffles (Cabardès is one of the smallest French wine regions, just north of Carcassonne), prepared by Jérôme Ryan, a local Michelin-star chef.
Truffled rice pudding
There were other things to take home, too.
If you store your truffle in a sealed container with eggs or rice, the eggs or rice absorb the perfume of the truffle. Kind of amps up your truffle experience beyond shavings.
Brouillade is like scrambled eggs, but very loose and creamy, not fluffy at all. Borderline custard. Delish. I had hoped to get some for a late breakfast–usually they cook it in enormous paella pans, a good meter in diameter. But Covid nixed that. I gave instructions for brouillade in a previous post here.
Food to go is one thing, but wine must be tasted. That required the pass sanitaire to enter the tasting area. It was too early for me, and besides I was driving.
Speaking of early, yesterday I went to the market practically at dawn and it was quite different from my usual late-morning trips. The vendors were bundled up and grousing about the chill. These clear blue days mean no cover at night, and temperatures around freezing, a bit colder than average. Anyway, I spied three vendors at a folding table behind a stand, having breakfast before the crowds developed. A 15-liter box of wine was on the table, too. Among the stands, wooly blankets protected the lettuce sections from freezing.
Back to the truffle market, a band was playing (see my Instagram; I can’t post videos here because I use the free version of WordPress), and there were lots of non-truffle stands, from organic vegetables to olive oil and olive-oil soaps to honey to jewelry.
A dog and master demonstrated finding a truffle that had been buried, but I was too short to get a photo with so many people in front. Truffled oak trees were for sale–like all mushrooms, truffles reproduce via spores. They particularly like oak ecosystems. These saplings are in dirt that should have spores around their roots. When truffles are harvested, the dirt is carefully brushed off and saved, not to lose the precious spores. Climate change, loss of habitat to construction and over-harvesting have made it important to nurture truffles. One of my old running routes, through vineyards and garrigue, passed a truffle farm, well away from any roads, out of sight unless one followed barely there paths, and protected by electrified fencing. 800€ a kilo….
At the markets in Aude, an inspector checks each truffle–any bad spots are cut off (at that price you want every milligram to be good!). The organizers also provided recipes and a bunch of information about not getting ripped off:
To choose your truffle product: “Commercial truffle flavorings are prepared with a handful of aromatic chemical products that badly imitate truffle flavors and that in fact contain no truffles.”
“Truffle flavor = synthetic”
“Natural flavor = yes, natural, but doesn’t come from truffles!”
“Products with truffles have minimum 1% black truffles”
“Truffled products contain a minimum of 3% black truffles”
“A fan or lay person who wants to appreciate or discover the black truffle should do it at events organized by organizations of truffle growers which exclude any sale of products based on truffle aromas.”
“There are 15-20 fragrant molecules per truffle species. Commercial truffle flavorings contain about four times fewer fragrant molecules than real truffles.”
“Warning, a lot of truffled products are badly labeled; lots of labels are deceptive!!”
“Without artificial flavors–but in fact natural without truffle!”
“Natural flavor of truffle–used instead of natural flavor!”
“For example, oils claiming to be “truffle flavored” with bits of freeze-dried truffles, all contain added artificial flavor.”
“The only way to transmit this flavor is by impregnating it in fat (butter, eggs, cream) from fresh truffles.”
Truffle season starts in November, and there’s usually a truffle market just before Christmas, but it really takes off in January and February. There exist “summer truffles,” a related species, but they aren’t nearly as strong in flavor or scent.