Welcome to The Aix-Files

Thanks for checking out The Aix-Files, my

blog postings inspired by my time in and around

Aix-en-Provence and the Vaucluse. The spot includes travel tips,

discoveries of local food and wine, recipes,

cultural events, interviews and historical

tidbits about Southern France. Enjoy!

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

The Black Diamond - Part 2

Tuber Melanosporum

The negotiation, Carpentras

Cooking brouillade for the masses, Carpentras

“Hidden in small bags, truffles are awaited like stars, wearing their beautiful ‘Tuber Melanosporum’ black dress, their fragrance flies all over the market.”

Not my words, but an apt description of the Carpentras truffle market, portraying the desire, the enticement, the fear and the excitement. Strange that this foodstuff, once sniffed out by pigs (still in the Périgord), now dogs, in the past was considered peasant food, and at times was the only food available to poor farmers in winter. As I mentioned in the last blog, and as you probably know, the truffle is now one of the most highly prized – and priced – products in the world: this smelly black blob that grows only where the sun never shines. For locals, it is still considered a regular product, not glamorous or fancy. Many people know pickers in the area and buy directly, thus avoiding the pressure and higher prices (and deception and dishonesty) at the market.
Confrérie at the Truffle Festival, Pernes les Fontaines

Festivities getting under way

Waiting for a truffle omelette in the cold
When we attended the truffle festival at nearby Pernes-les-Fontaines, which was held outdoors on the coldest Saturday in January, the mayor made a point of warning potential buyers about the cheap but poor truffles now being brought in from China. That was the only sour note sounded that sunny but blustery day. Festivities there started with a mass, and then a blessing of the truffles by the priest with an olive branch dipped in holy water. A donkey led the way for the Confrérie de la Diamant Noir, their forces bolstered by the purple-clad Confrérie de la Figue from nearby Caromb and the green and melon-coloured Ordre du Melon de Cavaillon. Lineups were long for the crèpes with truffled béchamel sauce, brouillade and truffle-stuffed brie. Jim’s omelette aux truffe was at risk of jumping off his plate as he ate it in the chilly air, hands trembling from the cold.

Chef Michel Phlibert,Gajuléa
 In the warmth of the kitchen, the challenge is to coax out as much flavour as possible from the truffle. As chef Michel Philibert pointed out, when we took his truffle course at his Restaurant du Gajuléa in Le Barroux, it’s really a game you play with the truffle. You mix it with some conduit, whether it be cream, butter, wine or egg, add the slightest bit of heat to bring out the flavour but not enough heat to kill it.

During his course we prepared tiny ratte potatoes stuffed with truffles. We also poached sweetbreads in a court bouillon, then stuffed pieces into a vol-au-vent made of puff pastry that we watched Michel make before our eyes. This puff pastry vessel also included steamed spinach and regular mushrooms which we cooked down and then enriched with cream, topped off with truffles. We even added truffles to our dessert, an apple tart with truffled almond paste. We enjoyed the meal at the table with chef Michel while his wife, Cathy, generously poured Vieux Télégraphe Chateauneuf-du-Pape from a nine-litre bottle. Truly.

Fava beans and asparagus in truffled beurre blanc

Reine Sammut is 2nd from the right

In Reine Sammut's kitchen

We also had a wonderful day preparing truffles with Reine Sammut at Auberge de la Fenière in Lourmarin. We made fava beans and asparagus (the first of the season) in a truffled beurre blanc and a truffled potato tart tatin.


Michel's doggy in the kitchen

Choose medium or large ratte potatoes. If this is meant to be a first course, choose about two per person (but make extra, just in case some break). Boil them gently until they are cooked and tender, but not mushy. Peel them. Cut them in half, lengthwise, and scrape out the inside with a tiny spoon such as a melon baller, leaving a thick wall. Keep each pair of halves together on your work surface. With a fork mix the potato bits that you have just scraped out with grated truffle, a drizzle of olive oil, salt and pepper. Re-fill the potato halves with this mixture, close the potatoes firmly, wrap them in paper-thin slices of bacon and then wrap them individually in tin-foil. Place on a baking sheet and cook at 350 for ten minutes. Remove the foil and serve the potatoes with a little salad. We enjoyed wild dandelion greens dressed with olive oil, salt and pepper and a few more shavings of truffle.
Truffled ratte potatoes with wild dandelion greens

À la prochaine,

No comments: