Riviera Reporter
Riviera Reporter

Luberon Diary: In Deep Truffle

Second in our series, American Lisa Pepin chronicles life on a Luberon farm 

May 9, 2013

Today was our garden party to kick off the summer truffle hunting tour season. We invited tour guides, travel bloggers and food writers, as well as friends from near and far. The idea was that truffles are their own best advertising and that getting people out to Les Pastras, our farm, with a glass of champagne in one hand and a truffle canapé in the other would have everyone talking about our tours. Just one problem: we didn’t have any truffles.

TrufflePhoto: Apryl ZA

The summer truffle season starts in early May but, due to an unseasonably cold and wet spring, there were none whatsoever on our property. So we set out to find a caterer. The estimates for a cold buffet of truffle hors d’oeuvres were outrageous. It was clear that these companies didn’t know that we knew how much they really cost. We managed to get the price down slightly by having my French husband Johann make the calls instead of me. Apparently, the sound of my voice over the phone gets me an automatic “accent markup”.

One caterer tried to dissuade us from serving truffles, saying that summer truffles weren’t flavourful enough and that they would disappoint our guests. Then we met Yann Sandrini at La Truffe Dans Tous Ses Etats in Bouc-Bel-Air, who proved that nothing could be further from the truth. From the truffle crostini and truffle croque Madame to the foie gras with truffles and caillettes de lapin with apple and truffles, every bite was a triumph. And let’s not forget the pièce de resistance, the Île Flottante with chocolate, salted caramel and truffle cream. It was magnificent, and the tastiest publicity we could have hoped for.

 Truffle Croque Madame  Truffle Crostini
 Truffle Croque Madame Truffle Crostini 
Photos: Claire Benvengudo, La Provence de Claire

May 19, 2013

Visitors, particularly those who live in cities, fall in love with the property when here for a tour. It’s lush and green and has a little bit of everything in the way of flora: figs, almonds, olives, pomegranates, cherries, plums, apricots …

Johann frequently tells the story about when he would go missing on the way home from school as a child. He’d inevitably be found hours later up in some fruit tree, juice dripping from his chin.

On today’s tour, we took the group past the grove of ripe cherry trees, then on to see the beehives. The mother of an 8 and 10-year-old looked concerned for a second, as one of the boys is allergic to bee stings. But then she really panicked when she looked around and realised the boys weren’t even with us anymore. The whole group retraced their steps, only to find that the boys had been inspired by Johann’s story and were perched in a cherry tree, munching away. Pulses stopped racing and the cameras came out.

June 16, 2013

When people imagine truffle hunting, it seems quite specific: a well-worn path, free from weeds and rocks, that stretches through a vast, flat expanse of trees lined up in neat rows. Properties like this definitely exist, but we’re just a family farm, not a big commercial truffle producer, so the route we take to our trees can be weedy, grassy, hilly and dirty. This is the real Provençal countryside.

We’re conscientious about telling visitors to wear shoes they don’t mind getting dirty. And usually, they comply. But today we had a terribly-chic South African woman with impossibly long legs show up in the most beautiful knee-high suede boots I have ever seen. Paired with her khaki shorts and flowing white linen top, she looked like she had come to Les Pastras straight from a Vogue photo shoot.

I begged to give her some other shoes to wear, but she assured me with a casual wave that she’d be just fine. She was just fine; the boots were not. To her credit, it didn’t seem to bother her at all. After the tour, she drank champagne cheerfully and tasted the truffle hors d’oeuvres enthusiastically, without a glance at her beautiful boots that were now in desperate need of professional cleaning. I, on the other hand, couldn’t take my eyes off them and still get a little teary when I think of all that buttery suede caked with dirt.

June 21, 2013

We are often asked what happens if there are no truffles to find. We’ve heard that other truffières will sometimes hide truffles to be discovered later in front of an audience, and I understand why. Tourists have come a long way, having reserved in advance, and really looked forward to hunting for truffles. It would be such a shame to disappoint them. Luckily, though, we haven’t ever had to do such a thing ourselves. Our expert hunter Jean-Marc usually comes by the night before we have a tour, to get a couple of truffles for me to use to make the canapés for the guests and to make sure there are some out there. The dogs sniff them out, but we don’t dig them up.

Expert truffier Jean-MarcExpert truffier Jean-Marc with his hunting dogs
Photo: Apryl ZA

Today, though, the sangliers beat us to the punch and dug up all the truffles we’d had our eye on during the night. They only left us five! Our guests didn’t seem too disappointed by the small haul, but we sure hope some hunters make a nice boar daube and appreciate that they have been seasoned from within by truffles! 

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