South of France in Winter means blue skies and cold temperatures, but it also means the best celery of the year, incredible Mache salad, and most importantly: truffle. The season has just started and will last until the end of March, if we are lucky.
The truffles from my region, Le Vaucluse, represent the 2/3rd of the whole french production and they are much anticipated all around the world as they are the best. Tuber Melanosporum, a mushroom like every other type of truffle, is jet black on the outside and marbled on the inside, which gives it its name of “black truffle” or “black diamond”. From the crystal-like structure picture below you will understand straight away why it is referred to a diamond, and it’s also priced at 1000 euros the kilo on average which makes it even more diamond like!
Growing a truffle is a disease of certain trees such as white and green oaks and it grows underground attached to one of the roots of the tree. Truffle plantations look very much like a field of wild oak trees, but a well trained eye will noticed if this plantation is producing truffles or not. Like I said, truffles are good for us but bad for the tree onto which it grows, just like a parasite. So truffle producing trees will be smaller than healthy ones, and the truffles can even act as a weed killer so you can often see a perfect concentric circle of shorter grass around some of the trees.
Pigs were mainly used to find truffles a long time ago as they naturally feed on them, but walking around a field with a pig on a leash, fighting with them to make sure they don’t eat the precious mushroom. Nowadays this all seems a futile effort. Dogs have been trained to find truffles and my family has always trained our dogs to collect the truffles from our truffle fields every Winter. Some say it depends on the breed of the dog, some say it depends how and when you train them, my grandpa always said it’s about how much the dog loves its master. He always loved his dogs and they definitely loved him back and showed it by digging out kilos of our black diamonds every year, some year more than others of course.
The smell of the black truffle is very intense and can flavour anything in a very short amount of time. This is how restaurants cheat by infusing eggs, olive oil, even uncooked rice or pasta, then serve it with a tiny slice of truffle on top and call that “truffle risotto”. And charge an arm for it. I am not saying I wouldn’t ask for some money for something so unpredictable, so delicious and so extraordinary as a truffle, but in my restaurant, you will find real truffle dishes, just like the truffle omelette my grandma cooks. We have it every year around Christmas and this year I made this omelette on New Year’s Eve.
24h before making the omelette, and no longer than this otherwise it will be too overpowering, place the unbroken eggs and the washed truffles in an airtight container. The truffle smell and flavour will penetrate the eggs through the pores of the egg shell and start perfuming the eggs. 1h or 2 before cooking the omelette, break the eggs and lightly beat them. Chop the truffle and use a fork to crush it into small pieces. Reserve some nice slices to decorate the omelette after cooking. How much truffle you use depends on how much you have. To be very luxurious, 20g per person should be plenty. Mix the truffle bits to the eggs, season with salt and cook on high heat in a frying pan with vegetable oil. The omelette should be well runny, and leave to rest 10 minutes before serving.