Apologies in advance to all lovers of this much sought-after French delicacy known as Black Gold
We live in the area of the Dordogne called the Black Perigord, on the side of a wooded valley on a fairly steep and rocky hillside covered in scrubby little oak trees, punctuated with pine and fir. There’s a lot of juniper, acacia and hazel too.
Due to the terrain the man who built this property in the early 1970’s created a rockery type garden – a number of small beds on varying levels supported by rock walls.
Last week Spring arrived with a vengeance here in southern France and I was pried off my computer chair and into the garden. Flowerbeds were calling, along with the dratted cuckoo – who perches in a nearby pine tree and calls incessantly! The flowerbeds were only noisy in my head – four of them in particular nagging me to get the fork and dig them over. They’ve been untouched since we moved in here in 2004. So a few days ago I grabbed wheelbarrow and tools and got stuck in.
I have to digress for a minute from my main story and tell you of my accident. One particular bed which was full of roots from a small hazel bush gave me a tough time. I came upon one big thick obstinate sod which brought out my determined streak. I wedged the fork (supposedly a good quality steel one) under the root and then used the rock wall around the bed as a lever. I gave it full thrust, teeth gritted, and leant all my body-weight on the fork – which snapped! The handle parted company from the tines and all the force I was putting on it catapulted me backwards over the wheelbarrow which was parked two feet behind me. The barrow then tipped and I came very close to carrying on straight down over the next section of rockery. In cartoon form it would have been hilarious! As it was I’m now sporting monster bruises on the backs of both legs. My hubby has since lectured me on the science of garden forks, weights, stress and levers.
On to the point of the story. After my vicissitude with the fork I switched to the spade and murdered the hazel root. Then moved on to the last bed. As I was digging and turning spades full of dirt I came upon what I thought was a lump of hard soil about as big as a tennis ball. I tried to crumble it up in my hands and realised it wasn’t soil, nor was it a lump of tree root. Puzzled, and being of a curious nature I managed to break a bit off. The inside was like nothing I’d ever seen before – a bit like the pattern of a brain. Of course the next thing I did, like you do, was to sniff it. I wished I hadn’t! It’s impossible to describe the pungent tang that bombarded my senses. A bit like comparing Beethoven’s Fifth at full volume with something from the Sound of Music. It knocked me backwards for a minute (fortunately this time not over the wheelbarrow) and nearly made me gag. It wasn’t for the faint-hearted. And then I noticed the worms! It was fairly riddled with them. I couldn’t throw it away. It had become too much of a curiosity – albeit an odorous one, so I took a few photos of it and stuck it down the side of the wheelbarrow. Somewhere lurking in the back of my mind was the word ‘truffle’.
Later I talked to my hubby who also suggested the possibility of it being a truffle. We had another look at it and then compared my photos with some on the internet. Sure enough it looked exactly like a black Perigordian truffle – a hideously expensive delicacy retailing in local markets for around €1000.00 a kilo. Ours weighed in at 85 grams. Possibly worth about €85.00. We decided to check it with some locals the next day, and in the meantime I was supposed to wrap it in kitchen-roll and put it in a sealed container in the fridge. The next morning when I opened the fridge door I was immediately assailed by the subterranean scent! The entire fridge hummed. It was so strong it had lifted the lid and permeated everything!
Before my hubby set off to do further investigations I told him that however great a delicacy it was, however sought-after, however valuable, I did not want the little stinker back in my fridge. He returned some time later (minus container) and confirmed that it was indeed a black truffle. He’d been to see a few locals and as soon as he’d cracked the lid off the container their faces had kind of lit up … ‘Ahh! truffe!’ they’d exclaimed, looking all sort of dreamy – the sort of look I get from the aroma of freshly baked bread or fresh roasted coffee. They had all confirmed it was indeed a valuable black truffle, worms included. In fact the worms were perfectly normal. We ended up donating it to our friendly hotel owner, who runs the small hotel in our village. Initially he said he couldn’t accept it due to its value. But when my hubby told him he’d been banned from letting it darken his wife’s fridge door again he accepted it gratefully and offered us free dinner this week. That will be lovely – as long as it’s not flavoured with truffle!