We nearly faint as we enter Eric Jaumard’s production house hidden on a country road in the Vaucluse. It is the scent of trufﬂes that sends us reeling. On the tables are piles of black trufﬂes ready to be cleaned and sorted. In the freezer, bags of vacuum-packed trufﬂes, on the shelves, jars of preserved trufﬂes, as well as olive oils, vinegars and patés, all laden with trufﬂes.
"I’m a trufﬂe man," he says, with a winning smile.
Eric Jaumard is at the head of family-run trufﬂe company, La Truffe du Ventoux, at the base of Mont Ventoux near Monteux. The company harvests and sells the famous black trufﬂe, the tuber melanosporum. They also pick the more delicately-ﬂavoured summer trufﬂe, the tuber aestivum.
Jaumard is a fixture at the Friday morning trufﬂe market in Carpentras where he buys even more trufﬂes to keep up with high demand. His family also hosts truffle events where participants head out for a trufﬂe hunt with his trusty dog, then convene for an aperitif and lunch, with each course based around trufﬂes — even dessert, which might be sweet ice cream infused with trufﬂe.
The famous "black diamond", as it is known, is a highly-prized product in the Vaucluse. The department accounts for 40% of truffle production in France, while the whole region of Provence-Alpes- Côte d’Azur produces 80% of the country’s trufﬂes. The rest come from the western Périgord region. The truffle is also notoriously highly-priced. A ﬁfty-gram piece could set you back 50 euros or more. It’s a question of supply and demand, says Jaumard.
"It’s rare, you see. There’s a lot of demand, but not enough on offer."
Especially in recent years, where summers have been dryer and winters have been warmer. Trufﬂes require some summer rain and a cold spell in winter to ripen properly. But stories abound among locals about the abundance of trufﬂes in the past, about nibbling a trufﬂe out of one’s hand, when many farmers had trufﬂe-producing oak trees and harvested them for regular consumption around the family dinner table, or traded them with neighbours for fruit or vegetables.
"From the time I was born we had trufﬂes all the time in the family. We ate them when I was a kid, I love the product by itself and all of its secrets," he says. It’s that romance around the trufﬂe that adds to its allure.
"It’s a mystery because of the fact that you can’t see it growing. It smells good, but you don’t see it, and we don’t know exactly how to produce it."
The trufﬂe grows near the base of oak trees and other bushes. There is a symbiosis between the mushroom and the tree, Jaumard explains. They exchange minerals, salt and sugar. The trufﬂes ripen to perfection between December and March. All underground. That means the trufﬂe hunter, or rabassier, needs a well-trained dog for assistance. The dog snuffs out the trufﬂe, and as it starts to dig, is rewarded with a piece of saucisson or gruyère. The trufﬂe hunter ﬁnishes digging — carefully — with a special pick.
In fact, researchers have made successful progress in developing oak trees to produce trufﬂes by inoculating the sapling with the mushroom. The only problem is, one has to wait around ten years for the tree to start producing, and even then, there’s no guarantee.
Jaumard now has 20 hectares of trufﬂe oaks. For the truffle lover today, the black diamond is worth every centime. There’s a je ne sais quoi aspect to the aroma and taste of the trufﬂe. "It’s very particular and there is no reference," he says. "It’s unique." Some traditional recipes include scrambled eggs, or brouillade, stirred carefully in a double boiler so that the trufﬂe doesn’t actually cook, but just warms.
Thin slices of trufﬂes also marry well with ﬁsh and seafood, such as carpaccio of scallops, and are delicious grated onto salads. Jaumard likes to wrap a trufﬂe in lard (a thin strip of pork fat), sprinkle it with salt, enclose it in aluminum foil and place it in the red embers of a fading ﬁre. After six minutes the lard melts, rendering the trufﬂe soft. It is then enjoyed with potatoes laced with trufﬂe butter. "It’s my favourite recipe," he says, smiling.
La Truffe du Ventoux trufﬂes are bought up by local chefs and are available in épicieries ﬁne. The company also ships trufﬂes all over France and Europe.
La Truffe du Ventoux, 634 chemin du Traversier, 84170 MONTEUX