After a lazy Saturday, we decided we had to get out of the house on Sunday. What to do? Ah ha! There’s a truffle market today about an hour away in Mousoullens. Yippee! We dressed in a hurry….with multiple layers and silk underwear to guard against the cold….. and headed out the door. We found our way there without too many wrong turns, parked along the side of the road and walked into town.
There was a festive feeling in the air….with donkey rides and booths aplenty selling all manner of foods……breads (the biggest loaves ever!), cheeses, meats, oysters, foie gras…..anything your heart could desire. When hunger hit, you could buy bread by the slice, pick up a few slices of cheese and sauccison (sausage) and “voila”….lunch. For those desiring the fare of the day, there were booths selling baked potatoes with truffles, pork sandwiches with truffles, truffle rice pudding and truffles on toast.
Craig and I set our sights on the booth selling truffle omelette sandwiches…..eggs with a few truffle shavings quickly cooked then rolled up and placed in a French roll….filling, delicious and only 3 Euros a piece!
With tummies full, we decided it was time to check out the wine offerings. We bought two wine glasses (conveniently equipped for “hands free” imbibing) and were told that we could get four “tastes” from the vendors in the wine tent. As with so many things in France, this was just a suggestion because there was no mechanism in place to track how many tastes anyone was getting. So……we went down one row then up the other tasting whites…..and then repeated the process tasting reds…..finishing about 12:30.
The truffle market wasn’t set to open until 2:30 so we wandered the grounds checking out the other booths….one was particularly interesting. There were five people inside the booth, each sitting behind a large copper kettle and vigorously stirring a steaming-hot porridge-like mixture. With our limited language skills, all we could ascertain was that it was made from corn. Tastes of the fried dough were being sampled and squares of the corn “dough” were being sold. We were about to move on when a gentleman came out of the booth carrying his large copper kettle. He poured the kettle’s contents on a rectangular table which was then lifted up by four people who tilted the table this way and that until a thin layer of the liquid “dough” was equally spread over the table top. The table was then set aside for the dough to cool down enough to be cut into squares. Needless to say, we bought a packet to take home.
We wandered on and came upon an unpretentious still where “eau de vie” (a clear, potent fruit brandy) was being made by some very happy locals. Craig asked for and received a generous sample. I took a taste….it was a strong, mouth-pursing, stomach-burning alcohol…..and yet, with its mild fruit flavor, it was actually pretty tasty.
Nearby, the unmistakable aroma of truffles wafted our way. We looked up and saw a dais where two judges were carefully evaluating each hunter’s truffles. First, there was a squeeze….too much “give” wasn’t acceptable….it meant the tuber had frozen in the ground. Then, the judge made a small nick in the nugget to confirm if it had the correct black coloring. If the pungent orb passed these tests, it was given a deep whiff to ensure the aroma was earthy, not moldy.
Truffles deemed acceptable were placed on a scale….anything unacceptable was placed in a paper bag. After evaluating each hunter’s booty, the prized truffles were weighed, placed in a burlap bag that was sealed with a metal clasp and returned to its owner along with the paper bag containing his unacceptable truffles.
Fathers brought their children up to the dais…..to help them to understand and appreciate this exotic food, they explained how the tuber grows underground, how dogs and pigs help the hunters find this secret crop, how the nuggets were being judged and then, with the judges’ permission, they let their children experience the truffle firsthand…..the look, the feel, the smell…..no nuance too small, too insignificant for these neophytes. The appreciation of fine food can never start too soon.
As the time approached 2:30, the hunters became sellers as they entered a roped off area of tables and began preparing for the sale. Baskets, scales and their sealed bags were placed on the table in front of them. When all was ready, the judges came through. Each burlap bag was carefully checked to ensure no tampering had taken place, then it was unsealed and its contents were emptied into the seller’s cloth lined baskets. At promptly 2:30, a pistol was fired, the rope holding back the throngs of eager buyers was dropped and everyone swarmed toward the black nuggets.
Craig and I were still wearing our wine glasses. In the crush of the crowd, I suddenly had visions of ending up on “CSI France” pleading “innocent” to charges of piercing someone’s heart with a glass shard. With this scary scene in my mind’s eye, I took charge of both wine glasses and moved away from the activity….hoping that Craig would be able to compete with the locals and secure a bit of nirvana for our pantry.
From my vantage point, it wasn’t looking too promising. People were leaving other tables holding tight to their precious bags of treasure but the only movement I could see at “our” table was a tall Frenchman pushing in front of Craig. Cripes, maybe I’d have to break the wine glasses to fend these Frenchies off. But then I saw Craig make his move….closer, closer, closer….. and finally, he was next to the table! Were any nuggets left? Was Craig able to negotiate a purchase with his rudimentary language skills? Did he bring enough money?
I stood on my toes and craned my neck trying to see what was happening but there were too many people….I couldn’t tell what was going on……but then I saw Craig break free from the crowd……triumphantly holding up a small white bag. Three black nuggets! We did it! We competed head to head with the French and came out winners! We’ll be enjoying the strong, earthy, woody, pungent aroma of truffles in our house for a while.
“Oh happy day…..”