Truffle Market at Limogne

'Black diamonds'

I awarded myself a day off yesterday and did something I have been planning to do for a long time – initiating myself into one of the rituals of southwest France, a truffle market. Every Friday in winter, a small truffle market is held at the town of Limogne, in Lot. In 15 years, I hadn’t yet managed to get to one.

Flexible kick-off

Last year, having consulted the Tourist Office website I duly turned up at around 10.20 am. Nothing was happening. The lady in the Tourist Office informed me that, no, it didn’t start at 10.30, it started at 10.00 and it was all over in 10 minutes. Since it was early March, they were unlikely to hold another one.

This year, I turned up at 09.50. Nothing was happening. The lady in the Tourist Office informed me that, no, it didn’t start at 10.00, it started at 10.30. Reassured that at least I wasn’t late this time, I had a coffee and waited for things to hot up.

About 10.15, someone laid out two benches at right angles to each other in the square in front of the church. Ten or so people approached the benches and laid small wicker baskets on them. This was the signal for the punters to examine the merchandise. They picked up the truffles, sniffed them and squeezed them. I did the same. The aroma is incomparable – earthy but not really like a mushroom.

Trufficulteurs display their wares

While all this was going on, I had the pleasure of meeting Evelyn who lives by the River Lot and writes a great blog about it. Unlike me, she has been to the truffle market at Lalbenque, Lot, the biggest one in the region.

Ritual gestures

No cheating allowed

An official reminded everyone that no negotiating could take place until the whistle blew at 10.30. At the appointed time, buyers approached the sellers and started whispered conversations behind their hands. You could tell by the body language if they were doing business successfully. When they had struck a deal – a price per kilo – they took the truffles to the weighing table and concluded the transaction. Money changed hands but the notes were folded up, concealing the amount. No cheques or credit cards – no VAT receipts, either.

While Evelyn and I were chatting, a woman came up and spoke a few words to us in English. She admitted she didn’t speak much English, so we slid back into French. It turned out she was a trufficulteur (or trufficultrice, I suppose).

“This has been an exceptional year for truffles,” she said. “I’ve never seen such high quality as we had in January. I sold 9 kilos this winter.”

“How many would you normally sell?” I asked.

“Less than one kilo,” she replied. I remarked that I thought last autumn’s drought would have damaged the truffles. She shook her head.

“The spores set well in March, then we had some rain in the summer, so they were able to resist the drought. There was barely any frost until February, which explains the high quality in January.”

Elusive and highly-prized

She had finished selling for the year and was now ‘seeding’ the truffle spores in her truffière (truffle plantation). Truffles have a complicated lifecycle and grow only on the roots of certain species of oak. Although you can help the truffle along, it resists attempts to cultivate it on a commercial scale, hence its astronomical price and its nickname, le diamant noir (the black diamond). Truffles have also suffered from deforestation and from successive droughts. Formerly unearthed by pigs, growers now use specially-trained truffle hounds to find them.

By this time, all the baskets were empty, except for one.

“He was too expensive,” the trufficultrice said. “He was charging €450 a kilo. If he’d charged €400, he might have sold them.”

Evelyn and I wondered what happens to the unsold truffles. While they keep for about three days, they quickly lose their flavour and aroma after that.

The Limogne Tourist Office website publishes the figures for amount sold and price range at each market. This year, up to yesterday, around 200 kilos of truffles were sold at the Friday market. The highest  price achieved was €600 per kilos.

Truffles guaranteed protected from frost

Culinary heaven?

I must admit that I find truffles a little over-rated but that might be because the ones I have eaten were not particularly fresh. The best truffle dish I have ever eaten was scrambled eggs with truffles finely grated on top, served by friends for breakfast one New Year’s Day. It is also said that the flavour of a fresh truffle kept in a box of eggs will penetrate the eggs, making for a celestial omelette.    

Our neighbour has often said that there are truffles around our place, although he’s careful not to divulge their exact location. Since we don’t have a dog, I wonder if we could train the world’s first truffle cat.      

Copyright © 2012 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved

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About nessafrance

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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20 Responses to Truffle Market at Limogne

  1. Pingback: Puylaroque: Tranquil Village with a Turbulent History | Life on La Lune

  2. Pingback: 5 More Hidden Gems in Southwest France | Life on La Lune

  3. I just found your blog through Evelyn´s.
    How interesting to go to the truffle market with you 🙂

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  4. I think we’re on to something. You and I should start a truffle finding cat association. We could call it Trufca. We could make a fortune. Although, you may find your neighbour’s stash and he might never speak to you again. Glad to hear you got to the market this year. We missed out last year because we only had a lawn mower for a car and we feared it would not make it down the auto route. Okay, so it was a Fiat Panda, but same difference.

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    • nessafrance says:

      Tee hee! Or TruffaPuss. Unfortunately, I think there’s a reason why no one’s done it before. Cat personality might have something to do with it.

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  5. Kate Swaffer says:

    How funny, I’m going for the cat too, and if I ever decide to travel with my youngest russian blue cat Boris, I’ll bring him to visit as I ‘m sure he’d make the grade!! The market looked wonderful fun too.

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    • nessafrance says:

      The market was great and so much better for being small and local. I love the idea of Boris the Truffle Cat. You have to train him up. Dogs don’t have to have it all their own way! Do you get truffles in Aus, or is the climate just not right?

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  6. ohh it sounds wonderful!! (And VERY French!) I tried camembert with truffles at a friend’s house for the first time last week – which was very yummy – and now I have to try to track some down. I imagine it’s a very acquired taste, but I love truffles!

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    • nessafrance says:

      Camembert with truffles has to be tried! I have had fried Camembert but never with truffles. This is a treat I will save up for next season, since this year’s season is pretty much over.

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  7. Steph says:

    I remember you talking about your failed attempt to see the truffle market going on last year. Glad to hear all went well this time round! I confess to being underwhelmed by truffle but perhaps that is because I’ve only tried it once and maybe it wasn’t fresh.
    I think you’ll enjoy this blog post – it shows a cat meeting a truffle!
    http://ourhouseinquercy.blogspot.com/2012/02/daisy-worlds-worst-truffle-dog.html

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    • nessafrance says:

      Thanks for the link, Steph. I hadn’t come across that blog before. I loved the pic of the cat sniffing the box of truffled eggs!

      I think I can live without truffles – at 600 euros a kilo, it’s a dead cert. But if they’re really fresh it is an experience.

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  8. I’ve always been fascinated by the truffle traditions but, like you, never managed to catch the market. It reminds, funnily enough, of crystal bartering in Africa! All whispering behind hands and strange rituals. This is one of the French traditions that I can completely appreciate, others I find deeply offensive … least said. Thanks for sharing your unique experience.

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    • nessafrance says:

      Thanks, Sue. I particularly enjoyed this experience because most of the people around were locals and it was very understated. I must do a bit more research on the history of truffles and find out how long these markets have actually been going.

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  9. Evelyn says:

    Good luck training the truffle cat! It was fun sharing the experience with you. Hope the rest of your day went well.

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    • nessafrance says:

      I suspect the truffle cat is untrainable but you never know! It was fun, wasn’t it? It was great to meet you and hope we can meet up again before too long.

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  10. I enjoyed this bit of culture today. Thanks for sharing a unique experience. 🙂

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    • nessafrance says:

      This is an experience that is typically French and something I have been longing to do for years. Now, I have handled and sniffed a real truffle!

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  11. Lee I says:

    This is such a charming story. I’m rooting for the cat.

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    • nessafrance says:

      Thank you. I don’t think we’ll get far with cat-training. You’ve no doubt heard the expression, ‘Herding cats’. Even one cat is impossible to herd!

      Like

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