For many years I’ve been trying to organise trips to experience that most sought-after of French foods, the mighty truffle. A truffle is any mushroom that fruits underground, and there are many species. Some are edible, some are not, and some sell for up to £1,500 per kilo!
That is the tuber melanosporum, the black pearl of the Perigord. The problem is that the season only runs from December to February, and if I have to write about how wonderful they are, I really should taste one first.
I started out with a visit to Edouard’s Truffiere at Pechalifour near St Cyprien, and his very special truffle hound Titeuf. I arrived late, but had my very first truffles sliced on french bread. The smell was fantastic, but the taste was just OK. But it was just sliced onto a few bits of bread – surely truffles can be better than that?
I’d booked myself into my favourite Chain Gang restaurant, the Quatre Saison in Sarlat. I asked in advance for the ‘menu aux truffes’, so I was looking forward to a memorable feast.
Dinner At The Quatre Saisons
Oh boy, what a dinner that was. I started with truffled scrambled eggs with a truffle and rocket salad, but there was also coquille St Jacques with truffles, an extraordinary truffle foam with foie gras, and beleive it or not a truffle ice cream dessert.
There was also a truffle liqueur, which tasted OK but once again the aroma was fabulous. I want to focus just for a moment on that truffle foam. I saw a couple nearby served with what looked like soap suds, so I was secretly delighted to get a close look when it arrived as part of my main course. I’ve no idea how its made, but it was delicious. And a slice of foie gras goes with anything in my book.
The truffle ice cream was rubbish – don’t bother. But everything else was truly delicious, so I was looking forward to my visit to the truffle market the next morning.
The Truffle Market
Despite their shady reputation the whole marché aux truffe experience was rather civilised. Before we’re allowed in the commissioners have checked all the truffles and graded them. So the melanosporum and the brumale are marked separately. The truffles are then graded for appearance, size and uniformity. For example, there was one truffle about the size of a golf ball, a nice round shape, no irregularities – this was graded as an ‘extra’, which means an extra 100€ per kilo.
The price, an average of 1,000€ per kilo for the Melanosporum and exactly half that for the Brumale, was a bit lower than I expected – I guess that’s the benefit of buying local. I bought myself a good-sized melanosporum, the ‘extra’, and a good-sized brumale for the sake of comparison. 120€ the lot. OK, throw in 600 € of travel, food and accommodation and it wasn’t quite the bargain it appears at first sight!
Then the long drive home. But in the glove compartment were three vacuum-packed nuggets of joy. I’ll tell you about what I did with them next month. Anyway, I’m a convert – I loved my truffle weekend, and I hope we can organise something for next winter so that we can introduce Chain Gangers to the wonderful world of the Tuber Melanosporum.