The regions of Burgundy and Dordogne are known for being the epicentres of truffle hunting in France. French truffles are widely considered haute cuisine products. Not only is their taste uniquely pungent, but they are also incredibly elusive compared with most other ingredients.
WHAT IS A FRENCH TRUFFLE?
You may well have received a box of truffles for birthday or Christmas. However, when we talk about truffles in France in haute cuisine terms, we're not referring to chocolate! We mean 'the diamond of the kitchen', some of the most expensive and exquisite aromatic mushrooms in the world. These elusive culinary gems grow out of sight and underground. They are not easy to find unless you have the help of a four-legged friend with a sharp nose!
Where do truffles grow in France?
French truffles grow predominantly in the regions of Burgundy, Dordogne/the Perigord, and Provence. We always offer the option of including a truffle hunt in our tours of these regions, as they're a lot of fun, and you get to eat an amazing meal with the truffles after!
Tip: If you're going truffle hunting in France, be sure to choose a tour which includes a meal with truffles after!
TRUFFLE HUNTING: How to Find Truffles
The interesting thing about truffles is that they only grow in the wild. This means they are hard to control and that their supply is unpredictable. This accounts for the incredibly high prices that are charged for truffles in France and indeed all over the world. It is also why they are considered to be gourmet products. There have been numerous attempts to cultivate truffles on farms, to little avail.
Originally, female pigs were used to dig up truffles. The truffle emits an odour akin to testosterone so the female pig would eagerly seek it out. Truffle hunters eventually abandoned this practice as the pigs were damaging the truffle beds in their haste to dig up the truffle. There was also an issue with the pigs eating the truffles they unearthed.
Nowadays in France and in other countries, dogs are used in truffle hunts. The dogs are trained to follow the scent of the truffle and indicate where they are without digging them up and eating them. In return for their efforts they are given a treat, meaning that the truffles remain untouched by the animals. Generally, it requires a large team to find a sufficient number of truffles, and this also drives up the truffle prices.
Truffle Hunting in France with a lovely dog
What's the difference between WINTER AND SUMMER TRUFFLES?
There are two main truffles in France: summer truffles and winter truffles. Winter truffles are the more aromatic of the two and are harvested from November through March. They tend to be at their peak in January. The winter black truffle occurs in Périgord, in the Dorgdogne region. It is the most highly sought after truffle and can fetch astronomically high prices. In January, chefs often start jarring winter truffles so they can be used later on in the year, beyond the end of the season.
The summer truffle is far cheaper than the winter truffle and is harvested between the months of June and August. But, just because it is easier on the wallet doesn’t necessarily mean it is worse. There are some chefs who won’t give the summer truffle a second glance because it lacks the intense aroma of its winter sibling. However, those who do, recognize its versatility. Chefs have far more options in terms of how they can incorporate the summer truffle into different dishes, as the question of price is far less pressing.
Often it is shaved onto salads or other dishes, as it subtly enhances the flavours already present in the meal. The summer truffle may be less fragrant than the winter truffle, but it can still do the job.
On the left: winter black truffles and on the right white summer truffles - © www.center-of-the-plate.com
How to Cook with Truffles
So now you know what truffles are, you'll want to know how to use them in cooking. Chefs have been experimenting for years in an attempt to find the perfect truffle-based recipe. While a lot of progress has been made, there is still no single defined way to use a truffle. Traditionally, black winter truffles have been used when roasting meat and poultry. But, there is also a school of thought that is totally against the idea of cooking a truffle. Many chefs will cook their dishes entirely and then simply shave some truffle on to the top.
Tip: store your truffles with cooking ingredients to infuse them with the scent
Generally, the best thing to do with truffles is to infuse the products you want to use with its scent. For example, if you store your truffle with eggs you will find that the eggs are then perfumed with the smell of truffle. This will give your next omelette an added layer of deliciousness. Similarly, if you put your truffle into a bag of Arborio rice you will be able to make mouth-watering, truffle-infused risotto.
A nice French truffle risotto
If you would like to go truffle hunting in France in the winter or summer season, we can include this in tours of Burgundy, Dordogne or Provence. We are happy to offer advice on where to go and where to eat the finest French truffles.