Truffles are one of those foods that you either love or hate. They’re not a take it or leave it type of thing – they’re too pungent for that. In Dordogne, everyone loves them, they’re one of the region’s prized treasures…
What are truffles?
Truffles are a form of mushroom, an edible fungus that some people swear makes your food taste like paradise. Growing at the base of trees, in damp conditions, they give off a scent that can be sniffed out by trained goats, female pigs and these days mostly by dogs. The pigs have largely been retired from the job of truffle hunting on account of the fact that the aroma drives them wild – and they scoff the prize if they can. The scent is apparently almost identical to a sex pheromone found in male pig’s saliva. They’re supposed to be an aphrodisiac and in fact in the middle ages, monks were forbidden from eating truffles in case the taste led them astray!
Truffles in France
France is the largest producer of truffles, with more than 30 tonnes a year being sniffed out and in the Dordogne, they’re revered. Each year a special truffle festival takes place in the uber gorgeous medieval town of Sarlat and the hunt is on to fill baskets for keen customers.
Truffle hunting in Dordogne
“It’s a shame that they have such a reputation for being expensive. Really they’re not” says Eduoard Aynour at La Tuffière de la Pechalifour. This truffle plantation is deep in the countryside of Saint-Cyprien near Sarlat. “15 Euros can get you a decent sized truffle – and there’s a lot you can do with it” he adds.
On a chilly January morning I follow him round his sodden truffle farm in the rain accompanied by Leno, his faithful sheep dog who is keen as mustard to start looking for the “black diamonds”. Edouard assures me we’ll be successful despite the rain.
“Cherche, cherche, cherche” he suddenly shouts out making me jump. Leno darts into action, slinking about under the trees, sniffing at the ground. She stops, sits and stares at us. Edouard pulls a small pick out of his pocket and prods gently at the soil. A foot down he thrusts his hand in and “voila!” he says, holding aloft a small black lump. “Smell it” he urges, handing the lump to me. There’s a scent of earth, decay, musky and strong. “It takes five years to train a dog to be able to do this” he says proudly. Leno gets a pat in appreciation for a job well done.
We head into the little shop on the site. Eduoard gently brushes the dirt off the truffle and weighs it. Then he pops it into a box to keep in the fridge to ensure it stays fresh. It’s a fascinating little place and Edouard is happy to talk truffles til the cows come home.
Beware fake truffles
“Beware fakes” he urges “there are a lot of them about. They have no scent, no taste. When you can buy a real truffle for as little as 5 Euros here, why would you ever even think about buying a phony?” he asks.
At the Tuffière de la Pechalifour you can buy your truffle fresh from the ground. There are also truffle products and local wines. And you can do a truffle tour with Leno. It takes around two hours in total and is a fun way to get to know more about the famous “fairy apple”.