The divine black winter truffle Tuber Melanosporum is a true gift from nature. Only a few regions on earth have the perfect conditions for this black diamond to grow. The Aude and Gard departments are two of these rare areas. That means that from November to February, several truffle markets take place in the South of France where you can buy and learn more about them. To go even deeper into the wonder of truffles, you can also go on a truffle hunt!
One of the best places to go on a truffle hunt in the Aude department is with the charming Éléna Anton from Mas d’Antonin in Argeliers. So it was that on a Saturday morning in January, Éléna welcomed my fellow truffle hunters and me with a lovely breakfast at her inviting estate. While enjoying a piece of a galette des rois, Éléna passionately explained her profession as ‘trufficultrice’, or truffle grower. After breakfast, we all packed up, put on our boots and off we went to the fields. Time for the real thing!
Éléna and her family took over some parcels of land about twenty years ago that once belonged to her great-grandfather. Soon to be followed by more newly bought pieces of land, on which she was determined to start cultivating truffles and olives again. Being a truffle grower is an unpredictable life, as you depend on many different elements. And even then, the harvest can be disappointing. Over the years, Éléna learned to remain humble and stay in touch with the earth. She couldn’t do her job without her dogs though, four in total. On the day of our truffle hunt, three of them joined us, amongst them the very talented 15-year-old Samy. And Samy turned out to be a superstar, as within two minutes he led us to a colossal truffle.
After this big success, I expected to find a truffle under every oak tree. However, it didn’t seem to be that simple. Besides a qualified dog, you also need a good pinch of luck. Samy did find a few other truffles, though. And every time he stopped and sniffed at the feet of the tree it was very exciting to see if we would find anything. As soon as he started marking the spot by digging a hole, Éléna would quickly check to see if there was a truffle and prevent Sammie for guzzling up the find. Dogs like truffles too… When Samy had had enough, it was time for Layna to give it a go. The very enthusiastic golden retriever also found a few truffles, although they weren’t the quality Éléna was looking for. Layna didn’t mind, as it left her with a few extra truffle treats.
We ended up with a handful of heavenly smelling truffles, and so we went back to Mas d’Antonin. All this truffle hunting had made us hungry, and it happened to be lunchtime. Stepping inside the warm room, with a wood-fire burning, Éléna invited us to sit down at a beautifully set table. While explaining to us some more ins and outs of the black diamond, we savoured our first bites of truffle with some grilled bread with truffle butter. Such a simple appetizer, but with such an amazing flavour! You only have to mix real butter with 5 to 10% of grated fresh truffle and a pinch of salt, Fleur de Sel from Gruissan preferably.
Unmistakable intense flavour
And the feast continued, with Éléna and her daughter treating us to four more dishes. While all of them included the unmistakable intense flavour of the black truffle, we could also liberally add more fresh shavings. Our lunch started with a creamy pumpkin soup with truffle, which we all decorated with some more shavings. We couldn’t resist! It was followed by a ‘brouillade de truffes’: the creamiest scrambled eggs- cooked over a bain-marie- I had ever tasted. Next was a jacket potato with a green salad, with a truffle butter that lifted this simple dish. And even the dessert fitted the theme- a molten chocolate cake with whipped cream and a dash of truffle. No need to say I can only but highly recommend a day of truffle hunting and tasting with the Mas d’Antonin!