Experiencing the adventure of a truffle hunt in France has always been on my buck list, in my mind I had a foodies vision of foraging around giant old oak forests with a big hairy pig in tow on a leather harness and a old French farmer that looked like he was part of the landscape.
My vision was far from the truth as I soon found out.
The hunt was due to start in the late twilight afternoon when the truffles give off a more potent aroma that is easier to pick up on the breeze. So we spent the rest of the day exploring the local Provence countryside with its rolling hills covered in vineyards and quintessential stone hill top villages.
The afternoon crept in and we arrived at the Les Pastras property, a stone cottage surrounded by vineyards, olive groves and small oaks dotted around the farm. I see neither truffle pigs nor old farmers! A lovely couple Lisa and Johann Pepin welcomes us. I soon find out that these days they use dogs, as you don’t tend to loose fingers like you would by getting between a giant male pig that’s on the hunt for a truffle that is giving off the same aroma of a female pig on heat!
Truffles are a very lucrative hush hush industry in France; farmers have been forced to go to extreme lengths to protect their black gold! Our host Johann explains stories of success and sabotage, farmers sleeping out with shot guns protecting the crop from thieves, extreme security surveillance set ups with heat detecting cameras and the odd old farmer or two with some missing fingers from the old truffle pig days. The truffle hunting industry sounds like a risky line of work! Selling at 1200 Euros per kilo for the prized black truffles you soon understand the reasoning behind the madness.
It is for this reason that I am unable to disclose the exact location of this farm, and also the reason that although Lisa and Johann offer tours of their truffle farm, they are only offered to overseas visitors It is undertaken with such secrecy that they have to be careful with each booking and only release the location of the farm a couple of days prior to your reservation!
Johann explains how the farm has been in his family for two generations, and it was only recently that they discovered that they had truffles growing on their property, including the highly sort after black as well as the summer white truffle. The locals had been keeping it a secret from his Parisian father all the time, since they originally purchased the farm.
Our truffle dogs arrived with their instructor Jean-Marc to start the anticipated adventure. Little Mirabelle’s cute fluffy looks can be deceiving, I soon find out she has the knack and a nose like a bloodhound for sniffing out the precious fungus. We also got to meet Éclair, a young egger black Labrador who was in training to be the next truffle-hunting hero. Simon calms the dogs and gives them a sniff of the scent they must search out, they are off in a flash, and within minutes the dogs had found their first truffle and waited patently next to it for a treat, then they are off to find the next truffle.
It only took 15 minutes to gather up a handful of the pungent black nuggets.
I was, and still am, amazed by the earthy smell of freshly collected truffles; the synthetic infused oils just don’t come close in comparison.
With our basket full of truffles we headed back to the house for a tasting of what we have collected and a glass of prosecco to celebrate.
We started the tasting with simple slivers of truffle on buttery home made bead, truffle over scrambled eggs and to top if off truffle infused olive oil ice cream and infused honey from the property.
Les Pastras also produce their own wine, olive oil, honey and wine stomping tours when in season, produced the old fashion way in giant oak barrels.
We left with a bottle of olive oil, truffle infused honey and our taste buds thoroughly content with the experience.