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,

*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,

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 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 (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.