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Monday, January 21, 2013

Black Truffles from Provence

                                                    An enthereal truffle omelette

Black truffles are one of France’s most prized culinary specialties. A kind of an over-the-top subterranean mushroom, truffles have recently surpassed caviar as the world’s priciest gastronomic item.  In a Paris restaurant, for example, a few super-thin shavings of a truffle can add $100-$200 to the cost of a dish.  It’s no wonder these coveted edibles are often referred to as “black diamonds.” Approximately 80% of France’s black truffles come from the area near Provence. 

January is the height of the black truffle season in this southern area of France.  Local churches feature truffle masses…and there is nothing holier than an omelette de truffes.   Due to the skyrocketing cost of truffles and the increases in French taxes, the area’s outdoor markets feature clandestine-like financial transactions hidden from view of the average shopper. (The comparison to drug dealing is not far-off as the intoxicating scent of the globe’s most expensive food provides a dizzying head rush that feels almost addictive.)  It appears that truffles have recently become a part of the “black economy” in France, i.e. the “no tax economy.”

But, truffles have also become a part of the black market.  With supply of truffles rapidly declining, prices are stratospheric (a two pound white truffle from Italy sold recently for over $300,000).  This has brought organized crime to the truffle trade.  Prized truffle hunting dogs (whose keen sense of smell provide the only method by which these hidden delectables can be found) have been kidnapped and been held for ransom.  Truffle brokers are being held-up at gun point by professionals.  Knock-off truffles from China have also flooded the market…they look exactly like their European cousin, however, they offer none of the famous mesmerizing aromas or mouth-watering flavors. 

One of our favorite wine estates in Provence is Domaine du Grand Devers.  Its 60 acres of vineyards are surrounded by a forest of oak trees that have black truffles growing beneath them (truffles grow in symbiosis with the roots of oaks.)  Wine-Knows will be hosting a winemaker dinner at Grand Devers with the harvest-tour group this September.  While black truffles will not be in season, truffle products (e.g. local olive oil infused with truffles, truffle honey and sublime truffle pâté) will be available for purchase at the famous outdoor Provençal market that we’ll be visiting.

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