When I heard that the black truffle, "la vrai", sold for 800 euros a kilo, "non, c'est pas vrai!", I had to find out for myself what the fuss was about. After all, we are talking about a mushroom that looks like an under-sized shriveled dirt-crusted potato.
Oui, mais... did you ever taste le petit delice?
Err, well yeah, tiny dark cubes of it in patés...
C'est pas vrai!
And thus we were off last Sunday to the annual Truffle Festival in lovely Aups, in the upper Var region.
We drove up from Draguignan, five of us swerving with the curves in the road, by parcels of olives trees and wines, by a few knotted green oak trees, stocky and vigorous. I imagined their roots, running like neurones through this musty limestone soil.
We arrived in Aups and vendors had spread under the little town's platanus trees.
We touched it, we smelled it, we scratched its skin, rugged and thick, and saw that its flesh was black throughout with a touch of burgundy.
"C'est la vrai!" exclaimed the handsome truffier.
Then we heard about its history. It was born on the root of a green
oak tree planted fifteen years ago by the owner's father on their truffle farm (few are wild).
Black truffles love the roots of green and white oaks best, though they can also develop on hazlenut and pine trees. They need limestone soils.
With a very gentle scratch of the earth, the family dog, a black Labrador (always our hero) dug it up along with many of the ones now displayed in the treasure chest.
The little thing weighted 25 grams and cost 20 euros.
"Can I feed a family of 5 with it," I asked the handsome truffier?
Oui, he answered with assurance. Make a brouillade with 3-4 eggs, 20 cl of crème fraiche, a pinch of salt and pepper. Take care to leave the truffe sliced in the egg batter for at least 2-3 hours in the refrigérateur so the scrambled eggs soak up the truffle flavor.
And so we took our little one home. Please forgive us, we stuck it in the trunk of the car, in my backpack, for the hour's drive back.
When I opened the trunk, I smelled a sweet, rusty, pungent fragrance with a dash of nutmeg.
We scrambled the truffle infused eggs in a pan with a tremble in the wrist, cleared a whole tray in the fridge and set it in the middle.
Monday evening, we all sat down for dinner. We starred at the yellow mesh of scrambled eggs, and its dozen dark slices of truffles the size of daisy petals.
It could have been our taste buds' anticipation, or the news coverage, but a delicate taste of mossy earth embalmed the room. Silence fell over the table. We listened to each morsel of truffle talk to
Yuck! screamed the 5-year-old. I won't touch it said another. It tastes like fish said the eldest. And then someone said it could possibly get better the more you taste it.
And the grown-ups had another sip of wine.