Sunday, March 20, 2022

Venice in Les Baux: New Show at Carrières des Lumières


The Carrières des Lumières (Quarries of Light) is a magical space in a vast cave-like quarry at the base of the hilltop village of Les Baux de Provence. There in the cool darkness, 100 video projectors splash 2,000 still and moving images over an area of more than 75,000 square feet, onto the 45-f00t-high walls and onto the stone floor, while 74 speakers provide the perfectly choreographed soundtrack to what you’re seeing.  The sound-and-light show changes once a year and is one of the most-popular, most-visited sites in Provence. 

On March 4, the Carrières launched its new immersive exhibition for 2022. Called Venise La Sérénissime, it explores the artistic and architectural treasures of the gorgeous Italian city.  Traveling through the Grand Canal, lanes, squares, buildings and churches, you’ll be transported into the world of Venice—both holy and secular—and see all the symbols of the city’s extraordinary history. Expect to be immersed in Byzantine art and the impressive golden mosaics of Saint Mark’s Basilica, the masterpieces of Tintoretto, Bellini, and Canaletto, and the famous Mostra del Cinema, through photos of the actresses and actors of Italian neorealist films. 

The 40-minute show is set to the music of Vivaldi, Verdi, Albinoni, Handel and Paganini. I’ve always felt that the soundtrack plays a large part in the impact of show. People around here still talk about the brilliant pairing of Salvador Dali and Pink Floyd in 2020...loved it!

As in years past the 2022 program was created by Gianfranco Iannuzzi and produced by Culturespaces Digital. 

Also as in years past, there’s also a shorter, second program. This year it’s Yves Klein: Infinite Blue, focused on the work of the 20th-century, Nice-born artist (the son of two painters) who was inspired deeply throughout his career by the colors of the Mediterranean. The ten-minute Klein show is set to Mozart, Vivaldi, Thylacine and Brian Eno. (More about Klein is here and here.)

The two shows combined last about 50 minutes and run on a continuous loop. Both are on view until January 2, 2023.

The Carrières de Lumières sits in the Val d’Enfer, a stone's throw Les Baux itself; you can easily walk between them but on foot you have a bit of a climb up to the village itself.  These quarries produced the white limestone used for the construction of the village of Les Baux, the Château des Baux and many buildings in surrounding villages including St. Remy. Aluminum ore bauxite was discovered here in 1821 by geologist Pierre Berthier, who named it after the village. In 1935, the use of more-modern materials led to the quarries' demise.  

Dramatic and otherworldly looking, the area has inspired artists of all sorts; it provided the setting for Dante’s Divine Comedy and Gounod created his opera Mireille here. Later, Cocteau came here to film The Testament of Orpheus.  A 16-minute film tracing Cocteau’s life can be seen in the Salle Cocteau, adjacent to the main space.

The Carrières du Val d’Enfer have been awarded Natural Monument status in France. 

The first transformation of the abandoned quarries began in 1976 with the development of a project using the huge rocky walls for sound and light performances.

Formerly known as the Cathedrale des Images, the venue closed in 2011 and re-opened (after a €2 million re-do) as the Carrières de Lumières the following year. Since then, it’s been managed by Culturespaces. Founded by Bruno Monnier in 1990, Culturespaces is the leading private operator/manager of monuments, museums and art centers in France. The Culturespaces Foundation, founded in 2009, fosters access to art and culture for children affected by illness, disability or poverty. One of France’s benchmark foundations, it’s known for initiatives that blend culture, education and solidarity.

Based on the wide popularity of the Carrières de Lumières, Culturespaces has launched a number of similar “digital art centers” including the Atelier des Lumières, Paris (2018), the Bunker des Lumières, Jeju (2018), the Bassins des Lumières, Bordeaux (2020) and Infinity des Lumières, Dubai (2021). Three more venues are expected to open this year: The Hall des Lumières (New York), the Fabrique des Lumières (Amsterdam) and the Théâtre des Lumières (Seoul).

For a look at all the Carrieres shows since 2016, click here.

A full press kit in English is here.

If you’ve never been to the Carrieres des Lumières, you wander at leisure around the dark, cool indoor space. The stone floors are somewhat uneven so if you’re unsteady, bring a cane or walking stick. There are stone benches for those who want them and you can stay as long as you like. As you exit, there’s a small but interesting shop selling books and other items pertaining to the history of Provence, Les Baux, the Carrières and the Val d’Infer.

The Cafe des Carrières is open from 10 am daily, closing at 5:30, 6 pm or 6:30 depending on the season, serving drinks, sandwiches and sweets.

As in years past, you can just show up at the Carrières and buy a ticket. But to avoid long lines in season, they suggest you boook online here.  You can also buy tickets in advance at the Carrières ticket office or at all FNAC stores. Pricing for 2022 is: €14.50 (adults), €13.50 seniors (65 and up), €12 students and free for journalists, jobseekers, the disabled and kids under 7. On the website you’ll see family rates and combined-visit prices (for the Carrières, the Chateau des Baux and the Musée Yves Brayer), along with background, directions and much more. 

Open seven days a week; last entry is one hour before closing.  

March: 9:30 am - 6 pm. 
April, May, June, Sept & Oct: 
9:30 am - 7 pm. 
July & Aug: 9 am - 7:30 pm. 
Nov, Dec, Jan: 10 am - 6 pm. 

Carrières des Lumières 

Route de Maillane  
13520 Les Baux de Provence 
Tel: +33 (0)4  90 49 20 02
carrieres-lumieres.com

Photos: (1) Poster for the new show. (2-10) Eight images of Venice in the immersive exhibit inside the quarry. As you can imagine it's hard to convey photographically what you'll see there in the cool, rocky darkness...but these should give you a pretty good idea. (11) One image from the Yves Klein show, which follows the Venice show on a continuous loop. (12)  The old bauxite quarry in daylight; the geologist who first discovered aluminum ore here named it after the village. (13) One section of the vast space is lit beautifully when the Carrieres hosts private parties and other events. I took this photo at the launch party for the new show a few years ago. (14) One of my favorite photos of the village of Les Baux, taken by Philippe Clairo

Saturday, February 19, 2022

Action! Ridley Scott's Winery is Open

Most people know that Sir Ridley Scott (he was knighted in 2003), is one of the top film directors in the world; his movies include GladiatorAlienBlade RunnerThelma & LouiseBlack Hawk Down and scores of other hits including House of Gucci (2021). His latest, a historical drama called Kitbag—with Joaquin Phoenix as Napoleon and Vanessa Kirby as Empress Josephine--begins production this month.

What many people don’t know is that Ridley has lived part time in the Luberon region of Provence--and owned a vineyard here--since 1992, when he bought a pretty mas (farmhouse) planted with 11 hectares of vines.

I first interviewed Mr. Scott in 2006, for articles in Wine Spectator and Conde Nast Traveller UK. For CNT, we discussed A Good Year, the movie he had just shot based on the 2004 book of the same name, written by his dear friend Peter Mayle.

For Wine Spectator, we talked about his passion for wine and his burgeoning wine-maker hobby-turned-business. “The vineyard was in place when I bought the house...” he told me. “I grow syrah, and I sell to the co-op, the Vinicol. They come with their machines and take it away. Now we're deciding if we want to start doing our own pressing, our own bottles and labels; I'm on the threshold of taking that step.”

He crossed that threshold just a few years later, launching his own label in conjunction with the nearby Cave de Lumieres. From 2009 to 2017, a wine made only from Ridley’s grapes (as opposed to a blend from multiple farms), was bottled there under the Mas des Infermières label. He also expanded his property considerably. 

And now, finally, Ridley has taken the next very-big step and opened his own beautiful 1500-square-meter winery, cave, shop and tasting room, just across a large plot of vines from his historic Luberon home. Surrounding the winery are 30 hectares of grapes: large plots of grenache and syrah and a few smaller plots of carignan, clairette, vermentino and roussanne.

Located on a road called the Chemin des Infirmières, Ridley’s house was once owned by General Robert of Napoléon’s Army, who planted vines there (from 1810 to 1830) and made wine.  At one point the house became a hospital for injured soldiers and when there weren’t enough nurses to look after the patients, local farmers were enlisted to help.

Eventually the historic home became the Mas des Infermières, a play on the words for nurse (infirmière) and for farmer (fermier).

My friend Celine grew up down the road and calls this sun-drenched stretch of Luberon land “the most beautiful place on earth.”

Located half a kilometer from the village of Oppède le Vieux and not far from Menerbes, the new winery was designed by Bonnieux-based architect Andrew Corpe, an Englishman who has worked in Provence for more than 30 years. 

“The vineyard is a sanctuary of silence and sunshine,” Ridley says on the back of every bottle, in what’s meant to look like handwriting. “My family and I came here to paint, read and above all to enjoy the magical life that can be found here.” 

Another nice touch: Ridley illustrated all the distinctive labels himself.

The winery is still in soft-opening phase and will officially launch later in spring. It’s a wonderful addition to the wine scene in the Luberon and a fantastic visit for film fans thanks to the memorabilia on display: a helmet from Gladiator, space suits from Prometheus, Alien: Covenant and The Martian, gold coins from The Last Duel and the bicycle from House of Gucci, to name a few. More items are on their way.

Posters and blown-up movie stills line the walls; you’ll see Thelma and Louise in the rest room and a large poster for A Good Year in the tasting room.  Much of that 2006 movie, about a London stock broker who inherits his beloved uncle's Luberon vineyard and run-down 18th-century chateau, was filmed just down the road (“eight minutes from my house,” Scott has said), at the real-life winery Chateau La Canorgue. Other scenes were shot at the Marseille Airport, the Avignon train station and in the Luberon villages of Bonnieux, Gordes and Cucuron, where a fake moon was hung for a date-night scene and the large rectangular village bassin was filled with floating candles. 

The tasting room and shop at Mas des Infermières is modern and inviting, with soaring ceilings, lots of light and vineyard views. A dramatic spiral staircase leads down to a conference room, private cellar/wine library and the vast cave itself, where Bordeaux-sized (225 liter) oak barrels are lined up in perfect rows, doing their thing.

Back upstairs, you can buy the first wines made on site (the 2020 vintage), plus a limited supply of those made at the Cave de Lumières from Ridley’s grapes (2015, 2016 and 2017). Older vintages, in shorter supply, will be released as specials.

The 2020 wines--two rosés and one red--are 15€ per bottle in the shop. Two more reds and two whites are in the works.

You’ll also find accoutrements such as glassware, corkscrews and wine books...and a blended Mas des Infermières olive oil made with fruit from their 50 trees. This micro-production oil is sold only at the winery, for now.

In the large courtyard out front there’s an enormous old amphora (that once held olive oil) and two 1000-liter oak wine barrels. Roughly 150 years old, they were found in Ridley’s house and weatherproofed before being put on display.

When I first wandered into the parking lot of Infermières last summer to see if they had opened yet, I was delighted to find my old friend Thomas Camilleri running the show. I knew Thomas, a sommelier, from Domaine des Peyre, another popular Luberon wine estate; turns out that Ridley had lured him down the road to help create and run Mas des Infermières. Today Thomas oversees the shop and tasting room, working closely with Bordeaux-born winemaker Christophe Barraud (a sixth-generation wine grower) and sales director Melanie  de Rudder. Ridley comes down from London once a month.

Like many wineries in the region, Infermières was hit hard by a late frost in spring 2021; they lost roughly 45 percent of their grapes. Their 2022 is production is expected to be around 45,000 bottles.

All wines are certified by the Bee Friendly Association and carry a cute little gold bee sticker. The winery uses no pesticides or herbicides but isn’t certified organic because, as Thomas explains, “even organic products can kill the bees.” Instead, they're pursuing the environmentally friendly certification HVE: Haute Valeur Environmentale or High Environmental Value.

Landscaping projects still to be completed include more trees and the creation of a large pond surrounded by vines. Future goals include acquiring more land for grapes, the production of honey (they have bees) and creating a hiking path through the vines. In the future, special events might include outdoor film screenings; I would think that watching an epic drama about Napoléon on a property once owned by one of his Generals, at a winery owned by the film director, not so far from the famous Route de Napoleon, would be quite magical indeed.

For the time being, tastings at Mas des Infermières are free; walk-ins are welcome but groups should book ahead. The actual winemaking, barrel and labeling rooms are closed to the public but visits may be arranged by special request. A few different guided tours will be offered, by reservation, starting in April; a VIP tour will include a seated tasting of older vintages (2011, 2014, etc.). All details will appear on the website soon. Until then, follow them on Facebook and Instagram for updates! 

Mas des Infermières
1575 Route du Four Neuf
84580 Oppede, France
+33 (0)4 90 75 66 16
masdesinfermieres.com
Winter Hours: 10 to 12:30 and 2 to 6, Tues through Sat. Closed Sun and Mon.
Summer Hours: 10 to 7 daily.


Photos: (1) The winery at sunset. (2) Mr. Scott started with 11 hectares of vines and now has 30; he hopes to have more soon. (3) Ridley at home in Provence. (4) Ground was broken for the new winery in 2018 but Covid stalled the construction; it finally opened to the public a few months ago. You can clearly see how the architect referenced classic Provencal architecture in the design. (5-7) The dramatic entrance, tasting room and shop. (8) Sommelier Thomas Camilleri runs the tasting room and oversees wine tourism. (9-11) The tank, barrel and labeling rooms are currently closed to the public but might be part of upcoming tours. Tour details will be announced soon. (12, 13) Ridley Scott drew the lovely wine-label illustrations himself.  (14) The carignan harvest in 2021. A late frost wiped out as much as 45% of  the grapes.  (15-17) At the winery, movie memorabilia from Mr. Scott's career includes a space suit from the Martian, a poster for A Good Year (filmed down the road) and blown-up movie stills like this one from Thelma & Louise.  (18) Want to sleep among the vines? Three elegant vacation rentals (like this one) are being built. (19) My friend Celine (in an adorable photo from 1973) grew up just down the road from the winery and calls this part of the Luberon "The most beautiful place on earth." (20) The winery is a stone's throw from the medieval village of Oppède le Vieux, the oldest part of which is super historic, largely abandoned and fantastic to explore on foot. 

Note: The annual Festival de Nimes (June 17 to July 24, 2022) features a wide range of concerts in Nimes' stunning Roman amphitheater. A highlight this year  (on June 25) will be “Gladiator Live" – a cine-concert featuring Ridley Scott’s multi-Oscar-winning film shown on a giant screen  accompanied by 200 musicians and singers. The film will be shown in English, with French subtitles. For info: festivaldenimes.com.

Monday, December 27, 2021

Truffles in Paradise: Markets, Fests, Feasts, Hunts & More


It's truffle season in Provence! Our famous fresh black truffles, considered one of the most prized and expensive food products on earth, are at optimal ripeness in January. If you've never been to a truffle market or done a truffle hunt, it's great good fun. But do it soon...the season ends in mid March. Below are some of the best places to experience tuber melanasporum (truffes noirs) in Provence, from marchés aux truffes to truffle festivals to truffle farms to restaurants. You can take check out the Fête de la Truffe in Uzes (Jan 14 to 16) or the one in Aups (Jan 23), join in a festive town-hall luncheon (ten more times this winter), attend a Truffle Mass followed by a truffle meal (next month), get a guided tour of a pros-only truffle market (on Fridays in Carpentras, for one euro!), sign on for Patricia Wells' five-day truffle cooking extravaganza (in 2023) and even adopt a truffle oak (anytime). And of course, taste truffled everything, from liqueur to honey to scrambled eggs to ice cream. Also, some news: a group of truffle producers in Provence have just banded together to combat the sale of fake, foreign, unripe and otherwise sub-par truffles with a “collective brand” called Le Diamant Noir du Vaucluse. Read on! 

The Richerenches Truffle Market, Truffle Mass and Truffled-Omelette Lunch

The famous winter truffle market in the village of Richerenches is now in full swing, every Saturday morning until March 12. 

The intoxicating aroma of fresh truffes hits you before you even see the long row of vans, each with a cluster of buyers huddled behind it...everyone bundled up warmly, patiently waiting their turn. With many thousands of euros worth of product changing hands, there's a hushed sense of serious excitement in the air. Each truffle is meticulously weighed, calculations are made, cash changes hands and sacks are handed over...while gendarmes mill around very visibly, keeping an eye on everything. Most of the sellers here are courtiers en truffes, who buy direct from the trufficulteurs for the purpose of reselling. Sellers without their own vans wander the crowd, their goods tucked carefully out of sight in cloth bundles, plastic bags or market baskets. 

And king of the market, of course, is the prized tuber melanasporum, also known as the French black truffle, truffes noirs, Black Diamonds or Black Gold. 

At Richerenches you can also buy truffle-oak saplings, kitchen gadgets to ease truffle handling and even a truffle hound...I saw one very sweet one in a cage, looking a bit forlorn that he wasn't running around in the sunshine like all the other dogs. Other vendors sell locally grown produce, charcuterie, olives and olive oils, soaps in delicious scents, nougat and other sweets. It's all very colorful, very authentic and very Provencal. 

Statistics are a bit hard to come by but the Richerenches truffle market is said to be the largest in France and probably Europe. It sells both wholesale and retail and many top chefs in the region shop here. I'm told that 50% of the truffle transactions in Southeast France happen here...accounting for 30% of all the truffles that change hands in France. And that the Vaucluse (one of the six departments in the Provence Alpes Cote d'Azur region) produces 70% of all the truffles in France.

All morning long on market day, people pop in and out of the Etablissement Cafe, for warming drinks and truffle talk. The unmistakable aroma of truffle wafts in with them and, by this time, is probably permanently embedded in the walls. By 11:30 the market crowds have dwindled and the Etablissement is packed.

After you've done your marketing, you can move on to a truffled-omelette lunch at the Town Hall/Salle des Fêtes, just a few doors down from the Etablissement Cafe, or at the Salle des Remparts, by the church.  You'll sit with strangers but no doubt become fast friends, thanks to the Kir that kicks off the meal and the serve-yourself bottles of Côtes du Rhône on every table. The 25€ price includes a salad, a creamy omelette with shaved truffles, bread, dessert, coffee, wine, a souvenir glass...and lots of juicy local gossip. These lunches fill up quickly so call the Richerenches Tourist Office to reserve: +33 (0)4 90 28 05 34. You can reserve by phone for up to six people; more than six requires a 50% deposit. See details and dates here.  

There's also an outdoor summer version of the truffled-omelette lunch; it happens a couple times a week and alternates between the villages of Richerenches and Grignan. Summer 2022 dates are still TBA. 

The Richerenches truffle market takes place on Avenue de la Rabasse (Rabasse is Provencal for truffle) and on Cours du Mistral.  It runs every Saturday morning, mid November to mid March, from 9 am to 1 pm. Anyone can buy truffles on the Avenue de la Rabasse; the Cours du Mistral is for professionals only.

Richerenches even has a Truffle Mass in the Saint Denis Church on the third Sunday of January (Jan 16, 2022). It’s dedicated to St. Antoine...the patron saint of truffle growers...and followed by an apero, open to all. Crowds have been known to get so big that a giant TV screen is set up outside in the courtyard of the Knights Templars Commandery so everyone can join in. As of now, it's expected to go ahead next month. There's a small museum devoted to truffles and wine in the Commandery as well. Info on the Truffle Mass and meal that follows (€65 pp, by reservation) is here

For more info, lunch reservations and other events, contact the Richerenches Tourist Office at  +33 (0)4 90 28 05 34 or via their website in English here

The Carpentras Truffle Market

Richerenches is the biggest but not the only regular truffle market in Provence. There are also two in Carpentras on Friday, which is the village’s regular market day as well.

The first happens on Friday mornings, from mid November to mid March, at the Hotel-Dieu. The start whistle blows at 9 am and it’s all usually over within an hour or so. This market is private and for professionals only...but the Carpentras Tourist Office  offers a guided tour of this market to the public for €1 (yes, one euro!) per person. Tours are in French only and can be booked online or in person at the Tourist Office.

The second truffle market is for everyone else. It too happens on Friday morning, from 8:30 to 12:30, in front of the Tourist Office on Place du 25 Aout 1944.

The professional market started November 19; the public market on December 3. Both will likely run until early March, depending on the harvest. 

Periodically throughout the season, the Tourist Office offers a truffled-omelette and wine tasting in their office, for €10 per person, featuring different chefs and wine domaines. There are none in January but check back in February; dates will appear on the website. To reach the Carpentras Tourist Office: +33 (0)4 90 63 00 78 or click here.  

Three Places for Truffle Hunts in Provence

*Year after year, truffle hunting at Les Pastras is one of the most-popular activities in the Luberon, according to Trip Advisor and other sites. With English-speaking guide Johann and three adorable dogs named Mirabelle, Caramel and Éclair, you’ll head into the Provençal countryside sniffing out winter or summer truffles. Learn how truffle trees are cultivated, the signals nature sends to indicate your trees might have truffles below and the extreme lengths to which people will go to steal the precious tubers or sabotage other hunters. Plus, tips on how to clean and prepare fresh truffles, what dishes taste best with them and how to tell a real tuber melanosporum from, say, a Chinese fake. Then kick back with Champagne and fresh truffle hors d'oeuvres...and truffle ice cream with truffle honey...and a tasting of Les Pastras’ homemade products including truffled salt and olive oil. You can also purchase truffles here at less-than-market prices. Winter hunts (roughly Nov. 15 to March 15) are weekdays at 10 am or 2:30 pm. Summer hunts (roughly May 1 to Sept. 30) are weekdays at 10 am or 6 pm. Expend to spend about 3 hours. For all the info, click here.

*Based in Gordes, Robert Florent dug up his first truffle at age five, while hunting with his grandfather. Today he organizes winter and summer truffle hunts with his dog Perle, followed by wine and a tasting of truffled toasts. You can buy his truffles and other truffle products and, if you book ahead, possibly stay on for a meal. A truffle hunt with tasting costs 200€ total (for 1-3 people) or €250 (4-20 people); more than 20 people add €10 pp.  Robert speaks some English but works mostly in French; a translator is available for €50 extra but must be booked in advance.  The summer or winter experience lasts 3 to 3.5 hours but can be shortened to 2.5 if needed. For info or to book: +33 (0)4 90 72 11 60, +33 (0)6 80 55 30 47, florent.gael@gmail.com.

*On a sunny December day two years ago, with snow-capped Mont Ventoux in the distance, my friends and I enjoyed a super-successful truffle hunt and a wonderful meal with truffles in every course (including cheese and dessert) at La Truffe du Ventoux, run by the Jaumard family. Details about everything they offer--truffle hunts, meals, truffles and truffle products, B&B, etc.--are on their site. 

Three Upcoming Truffle Festivals

The elegant, historic village of Uzes will hold its annual Fête de la Truffe January 14 to 16, 2022. This year you’ll find a winegrower's evening, a truffle market, workshops, special truffle meals and more. General info about the truffle season in Uzes is here and the the program for the January truffle festival is here. For whatever else you might need, call or email the lovely folks at the Uzes Tourist Office: +33 (0)4 66 22 68 88, info@uzes-pontdugard.com

Every Thursday morning from late November to mid March, the village of Aups, in the Var, hosts a truffle market on the Place Frédéric Mistral from roughly 9:30 am to noon. On the 4th Sunday in January (Sunday January 23, 2022) there's the Fete de la Truffe with truffles and other local products for sale, a truffle dog competition and truffle menus in village restaurants (definitely book in advance). I'm still trying to confirm if the Truffle Festival in Aups will happen this year or not but in the meantime, for info, click here and here. And  when you're in Aups, check out the Maison de la Truffe where you'll find truffle info, activities, a museum and a shop. The helpful folks at Visit Var can help with all the info you need about the region.

For now, the Nimes Truffle Fair is scheduled for February 4 to 6, 2022, Covid permitting. It’s organized by the Ville de Nimes and hasn’t been posted online yet so check in with the Nimes Tourist Office closer to the date.

Truffle Meals in Restaurants

At this time of year, you’ll find truffles on restaurant menus all over the region. Here are four suggestions to get you started.

At Restaurant Bruno in Lorgues (in the Var), you'll encounter a serious, decadent use of truffles in just about every dish including the famous truffled scrambled eggs known as brouillade. They currently offer multi-course truffle menus  at €83, €125, €175 & €195. Or, pick and choose your dishes à la carte and pay accordingly. This year Bruno was one of just two Provence restaurants to receive Michelin's new "Green Star" designation for sustainability. 

*At La Beaugraviere in Mondragon, on the N7 north of Orange, you can indulge in one truffle dish or an entire truffle tasting menu...and an award-winning wine list packed with Rhône vintages. This year, truffle menus are €69 or €150...and other menus, without truffles, are also offered.  

*In Carpentras, Chez Serge has been known for truffles for years. They used to do a fantastic truffle pizza but no longer...dommage! Now you’ll find à la carte truffle dishes and an €89 three-course truffle menu.  

*In Nîmes, the intimate restaurant Gamel will feature special truffle menus to coincide with the Uzes Truffle Fair (January 14-16) and the one in Nimes (February 4-6). Chef Cristian Moisa is self-taught, rising up through the culinary ranks from local brasseries to Michelin-starred eateries such as Lisita in Nîmes and Bibendum in London, while his partner Morgane, a pâtissier, runs the front-of-house. For more info, contact the restaurant in the new year. +33 (0)4 66 36 25 80. 

A Truffle Cooking Workshop 

Every winter at their cooking school in Vaison-la-Romaine, Patricia and Walter Wells offer a Black Truffle Cooking Extravaganza. It's five days of classes, meals and outings devoted almost entirely to fresh black truffles. Menus focus on complementary wines, particularly the prized whites of Châteauneuf-du-Pape. All instruction is in English, with recipes geared to home cooks. The workshop has been Covid-postponed until 2023 but all the info is here. In the meantime, pick up a copy of Patricia's 2011 book, Simply Truffles, on Amazon here

Two Bits of Truffle News...

The Maison de La Truffe et Du Vin, which for years has occupied a beautifully restored 17th-century maison particulier at the top of  the village of Menerbes—selling a fantastic selection of local wines as well as a wide range of truffle products--is closed until further notice. They may reopen...or not. But you can still buy their products (including their Truffle Aperitif, which a Menerbes-based friend says she loves to give as a novelty gift) on their website.

To promote and protect the integrity of their products, five truffle growers in the Vaucluse have banded together to launch a “collective brand” called Le Diamant Noir du Vaucluse. Rigorous specs guarantee the truffle’s origin, pesticide-free production and freshness: they must be sold within seven days of harvesting. According to association president Nicolas Monnier, an organic producer in Saint-Saturnin-lès-Apt, the goal is to combat the poor quality of truffles sometimes sold in local markets, some of which come from Spain or are unripe. “We want to take back control as producers...in order to guarantee that the truffles are ripe and black,” he says.  “Gray or white truffles aren’t ripe and don’t have the same aroma. We practice reasoned farming, without the use of pesticides. We also want to guarantee...that our truffles are fresh and out of the ground for less than 7 days. A consumer buying a Diamant Noir du Vaucluse truffle is guaranteed a fresh truffle. The black truffe of the Vaucluse might be the most expensive, but it’s worth it!” 

For More Info

There's a calendar of truffle markets in the Gard and elsewhere in Occitanie here.

And finally,  you'll find lots of great info on truffle markets, visits, hunts and more on the Vaucluse Tourism here

Photos: (1) Pasta with fresh black truffles at Patricia Wells' cooking school in Vaison. Her next five-day Black Truffle Cooking Extravaganza will be offered in 2023. Photo by Jeff Kauck. (2) Happy Shopper: I met the smiley Pierre Sauvayre last time I visited the Richerenches Truffle Market. (3) Delicious truffled omelettes are served up on most Saturday mornings in Richerenches during truffle season. Check the schedule and reserve ahead. (4) One section of the Richerenches market is devoted to wholesale only and many of the region's top chefs buy here. (5) The stall selling charcuterie does a booming business on Saturday. (6) A typical seller's rig at Richerenches. (7) Truffle vendor Thierry Vidal in the retail section of the Richerenches market.  (8) Rabasse is Provencal for truffle. (9) The markets also sell tools for handling truffles. (10) The Etablissement: preferred hang out for buyers and sellers in Richerenches.  (11) Here comes the truffle truck! (11) A sign on the Mairie boasts Richerenches' status as one of the 100 Remarkable Sites of Good Taste, a designation honoring local foods and producers. (12) The Truffle Mass in Richerenches will be January 16. (13) At the Truffle Market in Carpentras. Photo via Avignon-et-Provence.com. (14, 15) Les Pastras in the Southern Luberon is known for truffle hunts and truffle products, olive picking parties, grape stomps and more. After your truffle tour, tuck into truffle ice cream with truffle honey--and lots of other delicious things. (16, 17) Two winters ago, some friends and I did a truffle day at La Truffe du Ventoux in Monteux. With snow-capped Mont Ventoux in the distance, our day included a truffle talk in the Jaumard family's workshop, a successful hunt with this adorable Border Collie and a wonderful meal with truffles in every course including this pumpkin soup with truffle cream. (18) Poster for the Uzes Truffle Festival next month. The Nimes Truffle Fair is tentatively scheduled for mid February.