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The 25th annual Truffle market in Grasse and Le Rouret

GOURMET

Tuber melanosporum, as it is called in the technical jargon, achieves prices per kilo of 500 to 1000 euros. Photo: ShutterstockDespite the Coronavirus, Grasse and the neighbouring town of Le Rouret remain optimistic: they are planning their 25th truffle market for January. Then the noble black mushroom will be the centre of attention for two days, as customary. The season of aromatic Tuber Melanosporum is about to begin, however, the elusive fungus will not reach its full aroma until the middle of winter.

The Alpes-Maritimes department, where land is scarce and expensive, is not considered a classic truffle region - although the conditions for growing this precious delicacy are present. This is why the regional and local truffle associations are making all the more efforts to attract more farmers and owners of suitable cultivation areas to the precious and delicious black truffle.

Listening to the president of the regional truffle association of the Provence-Alpes-Côte d'Azur (PACA), Michel Santinelli, himself an owner of truffle oaks in Cagnes-sur-Mer (Alpes-Maritimes), it soon becomes clear that truffle farmers need one thing above all else: passion. From the planting of the first seedling of oak trees inoculated with truffle spores to the first harvest of the aromatic tuber, 15 years will easily pass.

Eco truffle production

But: "There is no more ecological way", says Michel Santinelli. If there is one agricultural product that stands for sustainable development, it is the truffle. Growing, cherishing and caring for truffle oaks is an extremely environmentally friendly way of using land and, after an undoubtedly long waiting period, is also financially profitable.

This is one of the reasons why the Conseil Général of the PACA region is subsidising truffle growers to help them plant oaks. Especially as one new job is created for every five hectares of truffle land. 390 000 euros will be available over the next three years, with 130 000 euros per year for the six departments of the region. In total, there are currently around 3000 truffle farmers in the area. In the Alpes-Maritimes, according to Santinelli, there are only about 100, with a total cultivated area of about 300 hectares. Since 2009 the department has financed more than 4500 truffle oaks. The region's new subsidies should make it possible to plant an additional 60 hectares a year.

The new season should be relatively good

Michel Santinelli (l.), president of the regional truffle association, and star chef Jacques Chibois presented the 25th truffle market of Grasse and Le Rouret in its Bastide Saint-Antoine. Photo: AS

Michel Santinelli and his colleagues are expecting a "correct" season this winter, especially where irrigation has been possible. The increasing drought is a serious threat to truffles.

On the other hand, research on the noble mushroom is constantly progressing, "knowledge is increasing every year". The 2020 revolution, as Santinelli puts it, is a small black box: It allows the moisture in the soil to be measured and reacted to accordingly. "Thanks to today's technology, you can't really screw up a harvest anymore." You adapt to climate change.

In addition to the white Piedmont truffle, the black Périgord truffle grown in Provence and on the Côte d'Azur is one of the most sought-after edible mushrooms in fine gastronomy. Tuber Melanosporum, as it is known in the trade, achieves prices per kilo of 500 to 1000 euros. But even truffles worth 10 euros can spice up a dish, says Santinelli. However, one should never be deceived by products with a "truffle flavour": truffle oil, truffle chips and other supposedly truffled products have often been given a much too intensive chemical note, explains expert Santinelli, an ardent advocate for the real truffle.

Truffle markets are held all over Provence from November/December and into March, the most important ones in Carpentras and Richerenches (Vaucluse), but also in the Var department (especially Aups) and increasingly in the Alpes-Maritimes.

Have you become curious?

Then make a note of the two market dates in Grasse and Le Rouret! Provided that Corona allows it, the markets will be held:

On Saturday 9 January, star chef Jacques Chibois invites you to his Bastide Saint-Antoine in the perfume city: in addition to a gourmet truffle menu, there will be a Provençal market with truffles from 9.30 to 17.30, demonstrations of truffle sniffing dogs and truffle tasting, as well as a raffle of a large gourmet basket.

On the following Sunday, 17 January, Le Rouret invites you to a truffle festival with a very similar programme from 9 to 5 pm. In the morning you can also visit the village's experimental truffle field, now over 20 years old. At 3 pm a lecture on truffles and their sexuality is planned. At 4.30 pm, star chef Daniel Ettlinger from the local restaurant Le Clos Saint-Pierre will present the preparation of a truffle dish followed by a tasting session.
By the way, in Le Rouret a truffle market is held every Friday during the season.

On both festive days in January in Grasse and Le Rouret, members of the Truffle Association will be on hand at a stand to answer questions about the black tuber and its cultivation.

-Aila Stöckmann