Provence is enchanting region, inspiring everyone from Van Gogh to Petrarca. Every summer tourists from far and wide flock to the picturesque Vaucluse to wander through the fields of lavender and sip Côtes du Rhône wines. But winter is also a wonderful time to visit, especially if you enjoy one of the world’s most luxurious foods: the truffle. We braved the infamous mistral (the north wind) to run after truffle hunting dogs, foraged for all the best truffle products at France’s most important truffle markets and donned our stretchy pants to taste all the top truffle menus in the region to put together this guide to Provence truffles.
France’s black truffles, also known as the black diamonds of the culinary world, are the best in the world. Though Provence isn’t the only place they’re found, more than 80% of France’s truffle production comes from Mont Ventoux in Provence’s Vaucluse.
Black truffles are in season from December through March and these months are a true truffle lover’s heaven in Provence. Travelers can dig and harvest with truffle farmers, take cooking classes focused on the truffle, buy just about any truffle infused food product imaginable at France’s most important truffle markets, eat incredible meals featuring the truffle and even purchase a black diamond all your own.
We learned that fresh truffles will keep in the fridge for about one week so long as you wrap them up well in an airtight container. They also freeze very well and can be used a little at a time for several months once frozen.
The Truffle Markets
Provence is home to two of France’s most important truffle markets: the Truffle Market of Carpentras and the Truffle Market of Richerenches. They take place every Friday and Saturday from December to mid-March respectively.
Carpentras Truffle Market
The Truffle Market of Carpentras takes place each Friday morning from mid-November until mid-March in front of the Carpentras Office de Tourisme. Depending on how truffle hunting went that week, there can be many or few truffle sellers. So for the top truffles, it’s good to go early. They officially set up in conjunction with Carpentras regular weekly market starting around 8am. The truffle sellers will stay until about noon so long as they have truffles to sell, but with the very rainy spring weather and then a much too dry fall, this isn’t the best truffle season and most sellers were already ready to pack up by about 10am when we visited.
Carpentras regular weekly market is also set up and runs all throughout the old town also until about lunchtime. There’s plenty to eat and browse including many delicious foods perfect for grabbing for a picnic lunch and souvenirs like Provencal pottery, olive wood utensils and Savon de Marseille.
Marché aux Truffe Richerenches
My favorite of the two truffle markets was definitely Marché aux Truffe Richerenches, which takes place throughout the small village every Saturday from mid-November to mid-March. We quickly learned just how Richerenches earned its moniker of the Truffle Capital of the World, with the biggest truffle market in France happening here.
People had clearly come from far and wide; the village has a population of around 800 but the Saturday truffle market regularly draws some 2000 visitors and 300-400 truffle producers!
Not only can you buy truffles, but you can buy just about any food product that works well with a truffle. Truffle cheese, truffle honey, truffle olive oil, truffle balsamic vinegar and even escargots with truffle. Just about everything here is centered around the truffle. Heck, you can even buy your own truffle trees; you’ll just have to wait for about 12 years for them to grow large enough to start producing your very own truffles. Oh, and plant about 100 hectares of them if you aspire to have enough truffles to sell.
In addition to the public market, there’s a huge professional market. There’s one also in Carpentras on Friday mornings, but the professional market in Richerenches is truly a sight to be seen.
Take a walk down the tree lined Cours du Mistral. Here you won’t find pretty woven baskets lined with Provencal cloths beautifully displaying nicely polished truffles and all the delicious truffle products. No, this is something entirely different. Here truffles can only be bought in bulk and cash is king. I joked that I was watching a drug deal.
The serious truffle producers selling in bulk to restaurants and chefs simply pull up their vans, open the back doors and very quietly make their deals with the boxes of their still dirt covered black diamonds and a scale. Seriously, try to eavesdrop in on a deal. You’ll never see anything else like it that’s actually legal – I’m positive of it.
If one thing was evident on our truffle trip to Provence, truffles are a true passion in this part of France. Eric and his son, Alexis, who have been in the truffle cultivating business for more than 20 years are proof of that. We joined them at their truffle plantation at the foothills of Mont Ventoux for a truffle hunt with their truffle-loving dogs.
Truffles are fascinating and though Tim and I have actually been truffle hunting previously in Croatia, we definitely learned some new things in this experience.
La Truffe du Ventoux may have been in business for 20 years, but tablets from 47BC have been found on the property and the Jaumard family have historical documentation about the use of truffles from this area. Back in the Middle Ages, the truffle was considered a product of the devil and the Catholics denounced it. Only the very poor ate truffles, and since they had no idea what to do with them, they ate them like potatoes! Can you imagine?
It was Francis I, the first king of France, and then the Good King Henry IV that brought truffles to the table and changed their status from a poor man’s potato to the equivalent of culinary gold. Recipes were found that included as much as 250 grams of truffle. That’s a lot of truffle.
Production of truffles was once 1500 tons in France alone, though today it’s just a fraction at 30-60 tons. Phylloxera, the disease that basically wipes out Europe’s grapevines, played a roll in the reduction of truffle production. The vast forests of oak trees, which truffles form on the roots of, were cut down to make new fields for grapevines. And WWII left many of the remaining oak forests neglected. Farmers went off to war and the oaks forests over grew, forcing out the much needed sunshine truffles need as a recipe to their formation.
My friend Amanda was expecting we’d be hunting truffles with pigs. Female pigs were once used to suss out truffles, but as you can imagine, a pig isn’t the easiest to train. And imagine pulling off a 300 pound porker before she can gobble that delicious, and prized, truffle up. So when it was discovered in the 17th century that dogs could also be trained to sniff out truffles, they were a natural and much more manageable replacement for pigs.
It takes 1-2 years to train a dog for truffle hunting and Alexis explained how their dogs are trained from birth, basically being fed truffle in everything. When the dogs find truffles, it’s crucial that they don’t gobble them up so they’re trained to stop and wait for a much tastier treat for a truffle finding job well done.
We ran after the very energetic dogs, who were clearly excited to sniff and dig up truffles, finding at least eight in a fairly short amount of time. The wind, infamously named the Mistral, can be quite strong in Provence in winter and we were given the option to continue hunting or go inside by a warm fire for truffles and wine.
What do you think we chose?
Warming up by the fire in the beautiful dining room, we had a small truffle tasting with several small plates. With wines from TerraVentoux, we enjoyed a pumpkin and truffle cream soup garnished with shaved truffle, truffle scrambled eggs and, possibly my favorite, truffle butter on toast topped with more shaved truffle.
La Truffe du Ventoux, 634 Chemin du Traversier, Monteux.
The Best Truffle Menus
Chez Serge, Carpentras
Be still my heart, Serge of Chez Serge in Carpentras knows how to win over a truffle and wine lover. Every Thursday evening from January to March Serge organizes a special truffle and wine soirée. He invites wine makers from around France to showcase their wines and the work closely with the chef to create a unique truffle tasting menu to perfectly pair with the wines.
It’s not just a meal; it’s a party, really. Chez Serge is known as the best restaurant in Carpentras and locals and truffle loving tourists like me pack the place, so be sure to reserve in advance.
The evening starts off in the bar, where the wine makers are introduced over a glass and hors d’oeuvres. Scrambled eggs are one of the best ways to showcase the earthy, musky and wild depth of the black truffle so it was no surprise to kick off our truffle feast with a small portion. Toasts with truffle butter were passed around next, before everyone moved upstairs to be seated for an absolutely to-die-for truffle meal.
Our five-course meal featured small plates with every course integrating the black truffle. From a beef cheek with truffle jelly and vegetables to the melt-in-your-mouth roasted duck with truffle sauce and pureed parsnips with truffle, every plate was clean-the-plate good.
This is France, so of course there is a cheese course with the delicious cheese from Fromagerie Vigier, one of the top cheese makers in all of France.
I think truffles are very hard to incorporate in to desserts, but Chez Serge nailed it with a savory poached pear with spun sugar dusted with, what we dubbed, truffle sprinkles.
Chez Serge, 90 Rue Cottier, Carpentras. Vins & Truffes on Thursdays from January to March. Six courses with wine pairings for €97 per person.
Maison de la Tour, Avignon
Maison de la Tour is a newer restaurant that just opened in June 2016. We were pleased to be invited and meet Chef Pascal Barnouin, who created another incredible truffle inspired menu for our five-course dinner paired with, what other, than the wonderful wines of Châteauneuf-du-Pape.
Every dish was the perfect portion size and so beautifully presented. We had quite a few truffle scrambled eggs dishes on our truffle tour of Provence, but my absolute favorite were Chef Barnouin’s. Served in a miniature roasted pumpkin, I can confidently declare they were the best truffle scrambled eggs I’ve ever had.
I wouldn’t think to pair scallops with truffles, but we had two different courses featuring scallops and the truffle worked wonderfully with it.
Again, I mention that dessert is hard when it comes to successfully incorporating the earthiness of truffles. Imagine my surprise to have a simple cocoa dusted dark chocolate truffle topped with a single shaving of black truffle. It was a surprising burst of flavor! The other desserts were some of the traditional 13 desserts that are served during the Christmas holiday to honor the 12 apostles.
Maison de la Tour, 9 Rue de la Tour, Avignon.
Cafe De La Paix, Valréas
The restaurants in Richerenches fill up very quickly after the Saturday truffle market, and it’s impossible to get in without a reservation. A good alternative is Cafe De La Paix, located just a few minutes away in the next village.
Cafe De La Paix also offers a special lunchtime truffle menu in winter or you can order a la carte for something a little bit lighter. And that’s just what we did, having started out our day with the truffle and wine tasting at Cellier des Templiers.
The cafe has the ambiance and charm of an old French cafe, with the fabrics, mirrors and gilded ceiling. And the food is fabulous. I had the roast pork with truffle and served with a truffle cream sauce that made me want to lick the plate clean.
Cafe De La Paix, 26 Rue Hôtel de Ville, Valréas
Truffle and Wine Tasting
Cellier des Templiers sits just outside the village of Richerenches, famous for the truffle market on Saturdays from November to March and also famous as the fortified headquarters of the Knights Templar. That’s right: the Knights Templar wasn’t just a fictional secret society dead set on protecting the Holy Grail in the Da Vinci Code. But that’s a story for another day.
The real Knights Templar did lend their name to Cellier des Templier, though, and a society of winemakers founded the cellar in 1966. Their 700 hectares of vineyards actually encompass two protected appellations: Côtes-du-Rhône and Grignan. The wide range of wines ensure there’s something for everyone’s liking.
On Saturdays during the famous Richerenches Truffle Market, Cellier des Templiers has the perfect way to start your day: a truffle toast and wine tasting. You’ll definitely want to go early because everyone headed to the market makes a reservation for the best breakfast in town: a generous amount of black truffles shaved on a buttered fresh toast from the nearby boulangerie in Valréas.
Cellier des Templiers, 233 Route de Valréas, Richerenches. Toast Truffé is on Saturdays from December to March by reservation only. €6 per person.
Claudine Vigier, who lends her name to her cheese shop in Carpentras, was voted the best cheesemaker in France in 2009. She personally stopped by to greet us, though her knowledgeable team takes care of every customer who comes through the door.
Fromagerie Vigier itself is lovely. There’s hundreds of milk pots hanging from the ceiling and she makes a delicious collection of unique cheeses. Of course, during truffle season you can find some cheeses with truffle. I was over the moon when I saw that she had my new favorite French cheese I’ve recently discovered, Brillat Savarin (a triple cream cow’s milk cheese that is so-o good it should probably be outlawed) with truffle. The consistency is somewhere between butter and cream cheese and filled with fresh truffle in the middle, well, each bite is like you’ve died and gone to heaven.
You can also order another of my favorite cheese, Mont d’Or, which is a cheese perfect for baking in to a fondue, with truffles. So basically, Claudie stole my French cheese-loving heart with her creations. Believe me, you won’t want to miss popping in and buying some of France’s best cheese.
Fromagerie Vigier, 23 Place Maurice Charretier, Carpentras.
Know Before You Go
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