On a cold and frosty autumnal morning in November a crowd gathered in the market square in Aups, capital of the Haut Var, This was no ordinary morning. At 10am, a whistle blew and everyone went into the hall for the grand opening of the “truffle “ market. A “few” words became a lengthy account of the season and the role that “trufficulture” now plays in maintaining the supply of truffles. Due to drought many of the natural truffle oaks have suffered, but the commercial planting of oaks impregnated with the spores of tuber melanosporum maintains the supply. This market keeps its identity by allowing only suppliers from the Var and the Alpes de Haut Provence. The men who are in charge of quality control were pointed out and then after a good inhalation of the distinctive aroma of “Le Diamant Noir” or “black diamond” the market was officially open.
Tables each bearing the details of the supplier surround the area designated for the sale of truffles. Each table bears a basket of truffles for sale, a set of scales, and a money box.
To look at these black objects of various shapes and sizes, one would wonder what the hype is all about, but within the gastronomic world, eyes light up at the thought of the distinctive flavour
The coveted black truffle of Provence or rabasse is known as the “black diamond” in the world of cuisine.
From Roman times truffles have been used in the kitchen and have always been a delicacy.
The truffle is a type of mushroom but unlike the others, it lives underground, symbiotically, on the roots of certain trees, particularly oaks
The truffle is formed in the spring, develops, thanks to storms and other watering, and is ready for harvest between November and March.
The area lends itself to the development of the tuber melanosporum, as it has ideal growing conditions, with a light, calcium soil, hot and dry climate and medium altitiude.
The land of the Aups area is renowned as producing “grands crus” in the truffle world . The area lends itself to the development of the tuber melanosporum, as it has ideal growing conditions, with a light, calcium soil, hot and dry climate and medium altitiude.
The harvest is a real treasure hunt, which needs passion, patience and experience. Truffles are hunted from the first until the last frosts.
In order to find the truffle the hunter has the help of an animal with a refined sense of smell, either a pig or a dog.
Once harvested, these black treasures are brought to market. The suppliers are proud of their product. There is such emotion in the voices of those involved it is plain to see this is more than mere trading. It is a meeting of buyers and sellers all sharing a true passion for this black diamond prepared to agree a high price for a relatively rare product whose supply is very much controlled by the laws of nature
Tips are being shared on how to use the truffle, how to clean it, how to store it and above all how to incorporate it into the menu.
I stood by and listened carefully how to produce the most exotic scrambled eggs- at the same time rustic and luxurious- Brouillade de Truffes
Beat eggs with cream and season. Grate in some black truffle. Then the secret is to leave this mixture covered in the fridge overnight so the flavours infuse.
Heat a little butter in the pan and then add the mixture and cook till thickened. Grate on more truffle and serve.
Aups hosts a renowned truffle market, weekly between November and February, with a truffle festval on the last Sunday in January. It is an event well worth attending, with demonstrations by the hunters on how the truffle is found, as well as various culinary stalls as well as truffles for sale , and truffle menus available from every restaurant in the town.
Such is the importance of the truffle in Aups that there are plans afoot to relocate the tourist office and open a Maison de la truffe to promote information on all aspects of the truffle from production to harvest.