Truffle-Shopping at Le Marché aux Truffes in Sarlat

December to February is truffle season in Périgord and each Saturday the Sarlat Truffle Market is abuzz with local producers selling their harvest to truffle-lovers from around France. These bumpy black bundles live a peaceful life buried underground in a mycorrhizal relationship with the roots of oak trees, until they are dug up by keen-nosed truffle dogs and the knowing hands of périgourdin truffle hunters. Some of them are sold to producers of artisanal goods, who transform them into oils, pâtés, tapenades, salts and other seasonings. These can be tasted and purchased at the many truffle-themed épiceries around Sarlat. But the best of the bunch are saved for Le Marché aux Truffes. Here, each producer mans their own stand, getting the chance to interact with the buyers and lead them toward the perfect Tuber Melanosporum (black truffle of Périgord). They lift their truffles using special truffle tongs so that you can give them a good whiff before selecting the right one for you.

We sniffed truffles at around 3 or 4 stands before we landed on our choice, a 30-gram little beauty from Monsieur Yves Laval in Journiac. Mister Laval actually insisted I sniff some of his more impressive truffles, some weighing in at a whopping 150 grams. In the end, we chose ours because it was more or less symmetrical and there weren’t too many holes in it (although, apparently holes are a sign of quality). We asked for advice on how to handle the thing and were told to consume it as soon as possible, within 5 days, lest it dry out and lose its panache.

There was something strangely personal and intimate about the purchase of the fungus, which was more like adoption than any other kind of transaction. We chose this truffle – with its own little personality – among a sea of truffles and remained keenly aware of its presence for the remainder of our trip. This was partly due to the tremendous odor it released, very gradually, over the course of hours spent in the back seat of our car. We actually left the little guy in the car overnight to keep it from stinking up our hotel room and arrived next morning to a truffle hot box. For the rest of the weekend, our car, clothes and hair reeked of Périgord black truffle, a very distinctive aroma with layers of garlic, walnuts, cocoa, sex and forest floor. The bizarre thing is that it had a relatively delicate, restrained aroma when sniffed directly. Only over the course of several hours did it discharge its pungent smell, oozing through the atmosphere and staining the air around it. Like all things related to the mysterious kingdom Fungi, it was weird but interesting and overall positive.

When we arrived home, we got to work with the truffle, which at that point had been silently screaming for two days, releasing its odor in any and every container with the bristling fury of a caged tiger. Périgord truffles are intensely concentrated in flavor, so the best way to fully enjoy them is to thinly slice, shave or grate them over something mild in flavor. Contact with warm ingredients helps unlock their full panorama of earthy, nutty, mushroomy and slightly spicy aromas. We prepared a fluffy and moist ham and cheese scramble, grating some truffle directly into the egg mixture. We topped the scramble with several slices of truffle, as thin as we could possible cut them without a mandolin. This recipe was heavenly, with the aromas of truffle permeating and perfuming the blank canvas of the egg. Delicious.


Over the course of the next few days, we locked the truffle in a glass jar (to prevent our entire apartment smelling of it) and grated the remainder on pretty much everything we ate – bread with pâté, bread with tarama and simple toast with salted butter in the morning. I even tried to feed some of it to my pet gecko, who took one sniff and jerked his head violently away. Truffles are weird and wonderful, with an astonishing depth of flavor and a sort of quiet power that fill me with wonder. Again, I’m not sure if we should be slicing them over omelets or bowing down before them in worship. I don’t fully understand what the hell they are, where they come from and how they do what they do. In any case, it was a privelege to have had this experience with one.

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