At the mention of black truffles, do your thoughts immediately turn to Périgord, rather than Vaucluse? Well think again: Vaucluse boasts the finest truffle markets in France, Richerenches and Carpentras. In fact, a whopping 80% of French truffle production originates in Provence, with half of these “black diamonds” unearthed in Vaucluse.
From truffle field to table
here we meet the younger of the two brothers, Baptiste Jaumard.
Not a Job, a Vocation
"It was natural that my brother and I should inherit our parents’ passion for this way of life. My father Eric Jaumard took over our grandfather’s orchards in 1975. Four years later he introduced the first saplings inoculated with mycorrhizal fungus. They’d been developed by INRA (France’s agricultural research institute), who then ran a partnership project to get a better understanding of truffle fields. The first harvest was ready in 1992, and the following year we began to sell our wares: the Ventoux truffle. My brother and I both came on board after we’d finished our studies. Now we’ve built up a whole family business around truffles: we cultivate them and make a range of truffle products, as well as running tourism activities like truffle hunting, truffle discovery days, and truffle weekends." - B. Jaumard
The First Harvest
- So you had to wait 13 years after planting the fungus-inoculated trees on your land, before you got your first harvest?
"That’s right. It takes that long for truffle oaks to mature. But also, although a mycorrhiza will definitely develop in the saplings, there’s no guarantee any truffles will grow. There are lots of variables that we can’t control, which can inhibit the growth of truffles." - B. Jaumard
! Watch out for fakes!
Chinese truffles don’t have the same taste characteristics as the Tuber melasnosporum. But despite their blandness, they’re often passed off as the real thing – with an eye-watering price tag to match!
"To put it in context, truffle production in France fell dramatically during the 20th century. Firstly, because of the two world wars; people had to temporarily abandon their farms when they left for the front. And truffle fields have to be maintained, or they ‘shut down’ and stop producing. A truffle that isn’t harvested will die within the year.
Then we’ve got the gradual warming of our planet, with overly mild winters and dry summers that are unfavourable to the growth of this fungus. The final blow was the phylloxera epidemic. Fortunately, INRA did work on mycorrhizal seedlings in the 1970s to figure out the symbiotic relationship between the trees and the truffles, so production could get back off the ground. Infected oak groves, where truffles had occurred naturally, were cleared, so the rootstocks could be replanted. Other than that, the truffle-growers let nature take its course." - B. Jaumard
Best Truffles: Vaucluse or Périgord?
"They’re actually the same variety, the black truffle or Tuber melanosporum. Périgord simply put an Appellation of Origin on theirs. What is different is which plant species the truffles are associated with. In Vaucluse, we use holm oaks, white oaks and lime trees. In Périgord it’s mostly hazelnut trees." - B. Jaumard
If a truffle is white on the inside, it’s not because it’s a white truffle – it’s because it’s not ripe yet.
Choosing the Perfect Truffle
A truffle often looks rather unprepossessing – a knobbly, shapeless lump of an indefinite dark colour.
--> Make sure you choose a truffle that’s a deep black colour.
Once it’s been washed, it already looks more appealing, and the grain of its skin has the same pebbly texture as a dog’s nose or a closed pine cone.
--> A good quality truffle will be firm to the touch – any sponginess is a sign of rotting.
Slice into it and you’ll see its flesh is marbled and looks a bit like a brain; the colour will depend on what variety it is.
--> Veining: the flesh should be prettily patterned with a network of veins – if not, that’s a sign of frost.
When’s the right time of year to buy truffles?
"The harvesting season runs from December to March.
Truffles develop from May onwards, and need steady watering from June to September. The first cold spells will bring them to maturity, and they’re at their peak in late January. That’s the best time to eat them because their aroma is at its strongest then, with woody notes of different intensity depending on which variety of truffle it is, black or brumale (Winter Truffle). " - B. Jaumard
A Right Royal Treat
Of the four edible varieties of truffle, the most gastronomically sought-after remains the Tuber melanosporum, the “black diamond”.
Truffling Hounds or Pigs?
"There were pigs on every farm in the old days. People would take a sow truffle hunting with them, because apparently truffles emit an aroma similar to male pig pheromones. It wasn’t very practical though; first you had to transport your sow to the truffle fields in a cattle truck, and then – crucially – you had to keep her from gobbling up any truffles she found!
Dogs are much easier to manage in these situations, and they’ll obey you, so nowadays they’re much more commonly used than pigs. Truffle hounds are trained to develop their sense of smell from an early age, learning to pick up the scent of truffles through play and rewards. Once they know how to sniff out their prize, they get addicted and enjoy the hunt. A well-trained truffle dog will stop and mark the spot. Then we just have to dig in the place it shows us, taking care not to damage the truffle. We don’t think of our dogs as work tools – they’re companions, first and foremost. We always want to see them enjoying themselves when we go out truffle hunting together" - B. Jaumard
How to Savour Truffles
"Black truffles are delicious either raw or cooked. 5 to 10 grams per person is all you need to enjoy the gastronomic richness of this exceptional fungus – unlike the lavish royal banquets of bygone days!
My top tip is to eat them raw, with a little salt. . Grate some truffle, drizzle with olive oil and scatter fleur de sel over it. Et voilà! Served with white wine, this simple dish is to die for. Also, be careful – black truffle can’t take being cooked at temperatures above 80° C, so you’re better off serving it in a sauce or as a garnish." - B. Jaumard
Truffles stay fresh for about a fortnight, but they can also be preserved or frozen.
How Big is a Truffle?
"An average truffle weighs about fifty grams."
"A company called Baudoin, in Carpentras, broke the record a few years ago, harvesting one that weighed in at 5 kg! Our biggest ‘haul’ ever came to a very respectable 850 grams. But let's face it, truffles the size of a small melon are few and far between!"
- B. Jaumard
And How Much Will it Cost?
"Prices fluctuate enormously, especially before the Christmas and New Year holidays. The price per kilo should remain within reason, and not go higher than €1,000 per kg.
In 2017 prices reached €1,500 per kg, because truffles were so rare. In any case, the price is always a little higher for a truffle that’s been washed, brushed, and had any inedible parts cut away.
At the beginning of December, prices for Tuber melanosporum truffles from Southeastern France fluctuated between €300 and €350 per kg (source: market price listed on France Agrimer, the national establishment for agriculture and sea products)." - B. Jaumard
Did you know?
Truffles can also be detected by watching out for a specific breed of fly that’s drawn to truffle grounds by the smell emanating from underground, and will lay its eggs there.
La truffe du Ventoux
634 Chemin du Traversier,
84170 Monteux, France
04 90 66 82 21
Truffle hunting: Foraging for truffles using a hound, flies, or a pig
Mycorrhizal: Requiring symbiosis with a tree to develop
Winter Truffle : A musky variety, known as truffe brumale in French
Cavadou: A pick-like tool for unearthing truffles without damaging them
Rabasse: The Provençal name for the black truffle
Rabassier : The Provençal name for someone who forages for black truffles
Truffle field: Natural or manmade grove of truffle-producing trees
Tuber: The genus name of the various species of truffle. The most common edible ones are: Tuber melanosporum (black truffle), Tuber aestivum (summer truffle), Tuber uncinatum (Burgundy truffle) Tuber magnatum pico (Alba truffle) and Tuber albidum pico (Bianchetti truffle).