January isn’t necessarily an ideal time to travel to Europe. All the holiday lights have come down, and it’s still pretty darn cold, even in most of southern Europe. I can still think of one reason that would quickly convince me to board a plane (and buy a warmer coat!) in January — truffle season in southwest France.
Trafficking in Truffles
Much is made of the high prices truffles fetch on the international market, and there’s always been concerns about getting what you paid for in such a luxury market. Taking it to a new level, 60 Minutes is now reporting on the influx of black Chinese truffles that are being passed off as genuine black Périgord truffles. Watch the video here.
“If you go to France and Italy, like we did, you will quickly learn that truffles are under siege because they’re becoming scarce. They’re being trafficked like drugs, stolen by thugs and threatened by inferior imports from China.” – Lesley Stahl, 60 Minutes
The 60 minutes footage shows French chefs and farmers who were very concerned about saying too much about where these truffles come from and where they’re being sold. There’s even reports of stealing kilos of truffles and stealing trained truffle dogs!
While merely deceptive and not yet criminal, one French business owner interviewed on 60 minutes suggested that just packaging Chinese truffles in France made them a French product resulting in a much higher price.
Beware of Imitations!
Périgord black truffle = Tuber melanosporum
Chinese black truffle = Tuber indicum
Apparently, you won’t notice the difference by sight, but even truffle experts have a hard time distinguishing between them. Since the Chinese are said not to wait until they’re ripe to harvest the truffles, you will probably taste the difference before you see it.
A Taste of Truffle Season
All the drama just adds to the mystery, if you ask me. Here’s a great series of great posts from David Lebovitz’s archives to help you vicariously experience a little of the truffle season in southwest France:
Truffle Hunting (part 1)
The Truffle Market in Lalbenque (part 2)
The Black Truffle Extravaganza (part 3)
Cahors (part 4)
I loved the photos of the truffle hunter and his pig, the mouthwatering piles of truffles, scrambled eggs with truffles, and the local tradition of pouring a little red wine into a soup bowl and drinking it from the bowl to catch the last remaining bits of soup…
Mmm. Truffle season. Truth be told, it also probably wouldn’t require much arm twisting to convince me to go skiing in the Alps or even the Pyrenees in January either, but the draw (and smell) of truffles would
probably definitely win out.
UPDATE: Périgord truffles are now available for sale on Gilt Taste at 1 ounce for $82.99. As of 1/18/2013.
Photo: voyages provence