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Mar 19, 2014 01:38 PM

Truffles in Dordogne

I'm wondering if there is any chance at all to find "fresh" winter truffles anywhere in the Dordogne in May. If this sounds terribly crazy, I just read a NY times article that says that weather (not enough rain) can delay them from being harvested, sometimes as late as March, etc. With that said, we'll be scouting out where and how to best buy these black diamonds, in jars if necessary. Your best sources, brands, marches, etc would be most welcome info. Also, best sources for foie gras??
Thanks to everyone for all the help.

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  1. Truffles are harvested only in the dead of winter. While I can totally wrap my head around it being delayed as far as March in a winter that just won't loosen its grasp, I'm really, really not seeing it being delayed as long as May.

    Foie gras is only fresh in the autumn, when the geese would be gorging themselves for the migration south.

    Small producers are everywhere -- and they consistently supply the best product anywhere.

    6 Replies
    1. re: sunshine842

      Thanks, Sunshine. I guess we'll have to return during winter some year! Any particular producers that you like?

      1. re: ScottnZelda

        We had a lovely meal here, http://www.auberge-du-brusquand-dordo.... I am pretty positive the foie gras was fresh in early June. Truffles were not, but we took home a few jars any way. Stayed in a wonderful and relatively inexpensive hotel in Marquay, the Hotel Mounea. Have a great trip!

        1. re: ebethsdad

          the foie would have been prepared from last year's frozen production (and there's nothing wrong with that -- frozen foie is fine, as long as it's properly handled)

          1. re: ebethsdad

            I also love that ferme-auberge in Marquay. It is one of my two favorite farm-to-table eateries there, the other being Le Taulado in the hamlet of La Genèbre very near Les Eyzies. The patriarch of Le Taulado is a hunter and has his own season's trove in a jar. I would trust both farms to have the real deal.

          2. re: ScottnZelda

            I've not been there in the dead of winter, so I've ended up buying small ones in glass jars

            1. re: sunshine842

              Relating to the season for fresh foie gras, the last Marche du Gras (the foie gras market) in Thiviers, the "capital of foie gras in the Perigord Vert" was held on March 8th. Similarly, the last such market held in Perigueux, the departmental capital, was in early March. Fresh foie gras (as well as mi-cuit and other forms of preserved foie gras) can otherwise be found offered by local farmers at markets throughoout the region until May/June; they simply eek out the gavage to last until it becomes too hot. There is no difference in quality between the fresh foie bought in December and that bought in May, as long as it is the offering of a small, independent artisan who knows his/her stuff.

        2. No. The last melanosporum truffles are harvested in late March, early April at the latest.
          In jars: you may buy them all around the year. Depending on the basic quality and on how well they were processed, they are not a worse deal than fresh truffles. You just don't use them in the same preparations. I wrote something about that in a truffle-related thread, a search will take you there.

          Also, Dordogne is not (and never was) the best place to get truffles. They are gradually disappearing from the Southwestern French territory but there are more in Quercy (around Cahors and Lalbenque) than in Périgord.

          32 Replies
          1. re: Ptipois


            Did you publish a book last fall? If so, what is it, please?

            1. re: sderham

              "Petit Manuel de la Truffe"

              I call it "Truffles For Dummies (Who Don't Even Have To Be Rich)".

              1. re: Parigi

                Thanks Parigi. The contents of the book are almost entirely by Pierre-Jean Pebeyre, who is the best authority on truffles that I know of.

            2. re: Ptipois

              Pti, the NY Times article this week also discussed the advent of truffles from Burgundy. I think there is a move afoot to get AOC identification for some truffes!

                1. re: ScottnZelda

                  Burgundy truffles are only Summer truffles that come later in the season than other Summer truffles because they grow at higher altitude.

                  Regarding flavor, they are like all other truffles that are neither of the Melanosporum nor of the Magnatum (white truffle) kind: more or less similar to wet cardboard.
                  If that one got an AOC then all Summer truffles should get an AOC and I would conclude that the INAO has become seriously screwed.

                  Besides it would be difficult to give an AOC to any sort of Melanosporum truffle since it is not a "territorialized" product. Which means that the notion of terroir does not really apply to it. There can't be an AOC for Périgord truffle when there is hardly any truffles left in Périgord, or for Quercy truffle when most truffles sold by the most reputable Quercy vendors come from either Quercy, Provence, Spain, Italy or even Australia. And there is nothing wrong with that since Melanosporum truffle is always the same, wherever it comes from. All that is required is to select the best ones and origin has nothing to do with that. So an origin denomination would be extremely tricky, if not impossible, to apply there.

                  1. re: Ptipois

                    that crossed my mind -- unlike walnuts or wine, truffles aren't really "raised" like other agricultural products...they're basically either there or they're not...!

                    In my mind, anyway, kind of like putting an AOC on a rock...humankind doesn't really have much to do with its presence.

                    1. re: sunshine842

                      I learn so much here. You folks are really the experts.
                      Thanks again.

                      1. re: sunshine842

                        "...unlike walnuts or wine, truffles aren't really "raised" like other agricultural products...they're basically either there or they're not...!"

                        Actually truffles are farmed, one of the reasons for the lack of production, and high prices, is that the farming fell out of favour after WW1 due to a shortage of labour. In the late 19c 75,000 hectares were in production, and according to Wikipedia 80% of French production is 80% farmed. The Australian truffle industry is all farmed with inoculated oak trees planted in truffle orchards in Tasmania a few years ago now coming into production.

                        1. re: sunshine842

                          That's exactly the idea - but humankind does have a lot to do with the presence of truffle. In a completely different manner which I haven't the time to get into here. Briefly, the disapppearing of truffle has a lot to do with desertification of the countryside. This is all explained in the book (which btw has an English version).

                          1. re: Ptipois

                            Didn't I read that there is some effort to replant the species of oak trees that provide the correct environment?

                            1. re: ScottnZelda

                              I believe so, but remember the trees are innovated with the truffles before they are planted so truffle farmers don't leave this bit to chance. Inoculated trees have been planted since the late 19c and are available from specialist agricultural nurseries. The tress productive life is 30 odd years so the "orchards" need replanting from time to time.

                              Finding the truffles is harder as they do need to be searched for by dogs: but I understand the dogs are "hunting" in the truffle "orchards" rather than venturing far and wide.

                              It will be interesting to see if the mystique of truffle markets disappears as new world production ramps up in other countries, and I wonder if the price will eventually collapse as supply balances with demand.

                              1. re: ScottnZelda

                                There is no particular species of oak tree that provides the correct environment; all kinds of oak trees provide it. You may also find truffles near the roots of hazelnut trees, lime trees, even pine trees, etc. But oak is most commonly planted to encourage truffles to appear (you cannot grow truffles, even with mycorhized trees. You can only create some of the right conditions for truffles to appear, which is by no means an guarantee that truffles will appear.)

                                "but remember the trees are innovated with the truffles before they are planted so truffle farmers don't leave this bit to chance."

                                Chance has the full bit and more, there is still no known way to produce truffles. A great deal of progress has been made in the last 30 years or so studying the biology of truffles; for instance it is now possible to add truffle mycorhize (a hybrid organ that allows the exchange between truffle mycelium and tree root) to the roots of a young tree, but there is no certainty that this interaction will ever produce a truffle. Nobody knows exactly why and how a truffle appears.

                                1. re: Ptipois

                                  ^ that is what I meant by my statement about humans not really producing truffles -- we can set up conditions that we know to be conducive to the appearance of truffles, but the reality is they either grow or they don't, no matter what we do or don't do...more like a rock than, say, a strawberry (which we plant and nurture and do quite a lot more than just hope they appear)

                                  1. re: sunshine842

                                    Mmmh - not certain thats a good example.

                                    Maybe a better one is planting grapes to make fine wine, far more variables than strawberries and a bit of a gamble as to wether the grapes will deliver the quality of juice required with the best characteristics. But lots of good science to help, and careful site/soil/climatic profile selection can dramatically lower the odds.

                                    1. re: PhilD

                                      I happened to be enjoying some fresh Florida strawberries as I wrote that, and was thinking of La Fraise du Perigord, which have an IGP -- I'm quite sure that the strawberry growers of the sudouest would insist that they work as hard to produce succulent berries as the vignerons work to produce good grapes and then good wine.

                                      1. re: sunshine842

                                        Don't doubt the hard work but the predictability of the outcomes are different.

                                        1. re: PhilD

                                          and keep in mind that a bad year for grape growers will still result in some grapes, even if it's not as many as in a normal year. Even if there is (as this year has brought) hail, frost, or sleet, the grapes will still appear, and the vines will (in most cases) survive to produce another year.

                                          It's a little more all-or-nothing with other crops...a late freeze will destroy the strawberries, with nothing to show this year...and maybe or maybe not anything next year (some strawberries have to be in one place for a year or two).

                                          So yes -- the predictability of the outcomes IS different -- the grape growers can predict at least *some* harvest every year...not so with other growers.

                                      2. re: PhilD

                                        No, on the contrary Sunshine's example is perfectly valid. The question is not whether we produce good or bad truffles, the question is whether we produce truffles at all. Man cannot breed truffles, and there is no such thing as truffle cultivation - you can only gather the right conditions together and hope for the best.

                                        1. re: Ptipois

                                          I believe you have both missed the point of the example. Clearly, climatic conditions and disease affect all crops, some to a greater or lessor extent but the risks of being hit by excess rain, frost, hail etc are similar.

                                          The difference is that a strawberry crop has far fewer environmental variables. Strawberries grow in a variety of climates, soil types, elevations, and aspects (to the sun). Certainly some are better than others but quite a broad range of conditions will produce a good strawberry crop.

                                          Wine grapes for good quality wines are much trickier. The soil type, sub-soils rocks, micro-climate, vineyard aspect etc etc make a lot of difference. The same grapes that produce a great Pinot Noir in one corner of a vineyard can produce an average wine in another part of the same vineyard (by the same producer) and completely different wine in a different area i.e. Burgundy compared to Oregon, compared to Marlborough.

                                          Truffles production has some similarities, there are so many micro variables that trees in one field will have fruit associated with them, but trees in another adjacent field may not. I don't think the same happens with strawberries.....?

                                          1. re: PhilD


                                            That would be the point!!!

                                            You're pretty much guaranteed to get *some* strawberries, or *some* grapes, barring some sort of utter devastation that destroys more than just a field full of plants. It might not be a great harvest, but there will be a harvest (and not-so-great grapes will still be made into wine; althought quality may differ)

                                            You have a plot of land and provide seed/cuttings, fertilizer, water, and care -- and you'll get **something** -- might not be as many or as high a quality as you hoped, but you'll get strawberries or grapes.

                                            Not so with truffles -- you can set up conditions to be conducive to having truffles, but there's no guarantee you're going to get **anything**. but trees.

                                            1. re: sunshine842

                                              I am not talking about the grapes its the wine that is the product i.e. you get grapes but no guarantee of fine wine (the end product). So like truffles, you have inoculated trees and you think all is well but no truffles appear.

                                              It is an interesting industry. Australian truffle production which is now 4.5 tonnes a year (10% of France) from a standing start ten years ago. About 40 to 50% of trees are in production, with some still maturing (and others seemingly planted in soils with too acidic a pH). That may seem low but for a brand new industry in an untried environment its heading in the right direction with some good lessons learned (i.e. invest in Western Australia not New South Wales as the soil type is better) - and like grapes it can be trial and error to get the right production.

                                              It would be interesting to know whether the new Australian industry gets, or will get, better yields than the traditional French industry. If it did it could illustrate how modern techniques will affect the industry i.e. most Australia truffles are irrigated fields which I don't think is possible in established field.

                                              1. re: PhilD

                                                but wine is taking it a step too far...

                                                Strawberries are strawberries, and truffles are truffles.

                                                Wine is grapes, at the level we're discussing.

                                                You could equally talk about crappy jam from watery strawberries....but we're talking about stuff that grows, not what you do with it when it's ready to harvest.

                                                1. re: PhilD

                                                  It is getting very good yields indeed but there is a major factor to that purpose: as you say, it is a brand new industry and a recent type of exploitation, in a soil that has never known truffle exploitation in the past.

                                                  It is evidently not getting better yields than the "traditional" French industry as it was before World War II (the apex of production, and it was a huge production indeed, was between the late 19th century and the postwar era, then it began dwindling) but it is certainly getting yields at least as good as the current French production.

                                                  Now you've got the Provençal and Spanish truffières still doing relatively well and the Southwestern French truffières (mostly Quercy, high Languedoc and some of Périgord) being alarmingly low in production, in some places nearly extinct (I have no records about Italy). But there is a good reason to that: before truffières started dwindling in the Southwest after centuries of massive exploitation, there was no culinary interest for truffles in Spain and hardly any in Provence. Truffle exploitation in Provence and Spain is relatively recent and not related to any local culinary exploitation. Australian truffle production is of the same type: a new industry. It can be said that the truffle regions of the French Southwest are all used up and that the more recently discovered ones are still in their youth.

                                                  1. re: Ptipois

                                                    Agree - one other factor is that I believe the trees/truffles have a limited productive lifespan of about 30 years. I wonder if the original French industry managed their fields and refreshed them, or whether the peak only lasted that long i.e. 1890 to after WW.

                                                    It is interesting to speculate on whether we will see the same "new world" wine revolution in the truffle industry. Here, the new world, not hindered by tradition revamped wine making, and thus was then brought to France reinvigorating regions like Languedoc. Could the same happen with truffles with new world producers developing better techniques etc. Time will tell.

                                                    1. re: PhilD

                                                      Forgot to say one other factor is the current weather changes with warmer weather in Europe, I think I read that this slight increase was moving some traditional truffle areas out of the ideal temperature zone and thus impacting harvest.

                                                      1. re: PhilD

                                                        Truffle being extremely sensitive to weather and hydrography, that is indeed a possibility. But so far it seems that more serious factors have harmed the truffle production in the Southwest, whose climate is still pretty stable. I'd look towards Provence (less humid and more prone to temperature contrasts, hence more exposed to climate change) and perhaps Spain to notice that shifting line.

                                                      2. re: PhilD

                                                        Yes, that is correct. Quercy and Périgord lost a lot of truffle production for lack of maintenance of the trees and forests.

                                                        Pebeyre names the "exode rural" as one of the main causes for decreasing production: when the countryside was "alive", with people tending sheep, goats, pigs or cows, no one ever came back from a day outside without bringing home a few truffles, mushrooms, hazelnuts, wild fruit, etc., and truffières were duly cleaned, watched and maintained. As anyone who studied geography knows, many landscapes need man to take care of them or they disappear. The depopulation of villages and countrysides in the postwar era has played an immense part in the disappearing of truffles.

                                                        While in "new" truffle regions the land economy is different and there is some attention devoted directly to truffle production, so there's a regular yield. In the case of Australia I wouldn't be surprised if the yield increased in the next decades.

                                          2. re: sunshine842

                                            You are absolutely right. You plant seeds in the right soil and the right conditions, and if nothing goes wrong you know you'll get fruit or vegetables. Nothing of the sort is possible for truffles. Pebeyre says that a truffière used to be a place where truffles were harvested. But now the notion of harvesting and production has been completely removed from it. One can own a patch of trees called "arbres truffiers" (complete with mycorhize) that have not produced one truffle for years and still legally call it a truffière. It is possible to print "trufficulteur" on your business card without producing any truffles (all you need is the truffière and the so-called truffiers trees), so that brings a lot of confusion to an already confused situation.

                                          3. re: Ptipois

                                            "...truffle mycorhize" (a hybrid organ that allows the exchange between truffle mycelium and tree root)"

                                            Not really correct: Mycorrhiza, is the symbiotic relationship between a fungus and a plant not a hybrid organ. It could be external to the root it can be "Ectomycorrhiza" which coat the roots of the plant (which covers most truffle species), or "Endomycorrhiza" which have hyphae that grow in between the cells of the roots. In both relationship the fungus aids the absorption of water and minerals for the plant, and in the return the fungus gets sugar from the plant.

                                            I agree there is no certainty that the fungi will fruit and produce truffles, after all it is a form of farming and you rely on nature. However, truffle science has been developing for 130+ years and is reasonably advanced (although still evolving). Its also a sub-set of the more general research into the beneficial effects of fungi/plant symbiotic relationships which are important for many crops. So its really quite easy to buy seedlings which have been inoculated.

                                            The problem is for a farmer to really control the variables which lead to fruiting - temperature, moisture, pH, organic and inorganic content of the soil etc etc. and if they they this right they then need to find the truffle in the ground (after all its not like adding a facing layer in commercial mushroom production and simply waiting for them to pop up).

                                            So yes lots of factors that influence the production and yield, but the science of Mycorrhiza is pretty robust and has been studied in a lot of depth as it has a beneficial impact on a lot of agriculture (90% of plants benefit).

                                            1. re: PhilD

                                              "So its really quite easy to buy seedlings which have been inoculated."

                                              Especially since you're inoculating them with a symbiotic relationship instead of inoculating them with a hybrid organ :) If it is so, the science of mycorhize is pretty robust indeed, to the point of throwing us head first into the twilight zone.

                                              Jeez, you should have written the book instead of us (Pebeyre's family has only been studying truffles for five generations now, which includes working with scientists). Perhaps you could email him about the mycorhize being immaterial.

                                              However "solid" the science of mycorhize is, it is still pretty powerless when it comes to producing truffles. We cannot control the variables that lead to fruiting simply because we know some variables but not the most important one, i.e. the sexual reproduction of truffles. This is still unknown. So one may master temperature, pH and all the like, but that does not trigger the birth of a truffle in any way.

                                              1. re: Ptipois

                                                "Perhaps you could email him about the mycorhize being immaterial."

                                                I didn't say that, I simply said its well understood science and quite simple to do. After all I thought the French truffle industry in the 19c grew to its peak using inoculated trees.

                                                I agree about the difficulty in controlling the fruiting and that is exactly what I said, I also said it was still evolving i.e. the discovery of sexual reproduction.

                                                Truffle agriculture is not new, its getting a lot more sophisticated, but as history demonstrates its quite possible to up production by planting more trees. The challenge (as in all agriculture) is to improve yields and predictability.