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Seeking The Elusive Black Truffle In Provence

Updated on March 29, 2009

To the uninitiated, the black truffle is a hyper expensive French froufrou curiosity with an acrid, earthy taste and strange mushroomy smell that fancy chefs are addicted to for some unknown reason. To the gourmand, this little Tuber melanosporum is “The Black Diamond” of French cuisine, a fundamental and profound delicacy which is most often referred to as the Rabasse.

Sophisticated tastebuds have celebrated for centuries the effect that black truffle has on the glories of French culinary masterpieces. It is safe to say that a fair percentage of French cooking is based on and centered around the black truffle, and the finest exemplars are to be found in the very specific area of Provence between Mount Ventoux and the Luberon valley.

Truffles mature through the winter time on the roots of particular oak trees and they are usually located through pigs and dogs who are specifically trained to seek out the magnificent aroma and yanked out of the ground with a special Faiji hook. According to the French gourmets, the only real truffles are wild, and a good day’s truffle hunting can harvest a few ounces at best thus justifying the price that can reach well over $2,000 per pound. A gigantic 2.6 pound truffle recently sold at auction for $110,000! Even when you consider that only 10 grams of black truffle is a sufficient amount to properly season a fine dish of pasta, that amount sliced from the humongous truffle would set you back $918! Unfortunately, that's a bit too pricy for my credit card in the middle of a recession cum depression!

If you are not going to equip yourself with your own Faiji and pig or dog, the best way to get the delectable truffle is to visit the winter truffle markets in Aups, Richerence, Lalbenque, Apt and Carpentras, where you will find stalls with their trays heaped high, and a large number of gourmands and professional truffle traders sniffing and pinching the little black tubers all morning long.

It is important to educate yourself in the intricacies of finding the real wild truffle, not the Chinese imitation. You would be well advised to study up on the truffle before you go, as it is not unusual for truffle sellers to advertise as fresh, wild and locally grown a tuber which comes from a truffière truffle plantation or even worse, imported from China! The vastly inferior Chinese fungus looks like a black truffle but tastes like sponge. A common trick is to store it amidst original French truffles where it will absorb enough of the smell to fool the dilettantes into shelling out hundreds of Euros for a worthless Asian mushroom.

The true and authentic Provencal black truffle is only gathered by hand by a rabassier, Provençal dialect for the truffle hunter-gatherer and the discerning nose and palate of the truffle enthusiast can tell not only the wild from the cultivated, but also the very region where the truffle was grown!

If you are visiting Provence you owe it to your tastebuds to seek out the original Provençal truffle by visiting the heartland around Vaucluse, Salernes, Aix-en-Provence, Avignon, Banon, Peyruis, Cavaillon and Manosque where you can enjoy this pricy but unforgettable cornerstone of French cuisine.

Continued in The Culinary Paradise Of White Truffles


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