How to find truffles in Provence, an insiders guide

by Ruth on January 3, 2015

in Life in France

Raphael (French Husband) caught the truffling bug four years back, when over an incredible truffle laden winter feast, a friend of ours Gabriel Sobin, hinted at the hidden art of truffling ‘a la Mouche’.  This most gifted truffler has no need for dogs or pigs, they have an exceptional nose, infinite patience, venture out only when the sun is shining and most importantly they have over the years identified the secret oak tree truffle groves scattered across the valley between Lacoste and Bonnieux.

To get one of these talented trufflers to show you where they find their jewels requires trust, garnered over many years and even then they will never show you their favourite patches.

Despite several attempts over the years, Raphael never managed to find the elusive truffle that he yearned to find and he grew more and more exasperated. It doesn’t help that around this time of year he always seems to meet a certain truffle hunter, a centimetre of dirt under each finger nail, pockets overflowing with these treasures, enveloped in a primal, intoxicating cloud of truffle perfume.

So it was a happy day when we got a call from a friend who offered to take us all (kids included) to learn the art of truffling.

cha searching

“Come on” he murmured to the ground itself, “let’s see your wings, your little wings.” His murmur, barely perceptible, was hardly more than the abrasion of one dry lip against another. “Come on,” he insisted, using what he called the old language—that now nearly extinct idiom—in addressing lei mousco, the flies. For he was begging the flies for a sign: some tiny, covert, telltale indication.”

The Fly Truffler – Gustaf Sobin

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Step 1.   Check weather conditions. One needs a clear fine day, Sunshine, No Wind.

Step 2. Pack an old toothbrush, a screwdriver, and a paper bag.

Step 3. Find yourself a slim long stick (baton) for combing/ swiping over the area. (For operating instructions see gif at end of post).

marked ground truffle hunt

Step 4. In Provence, truffles are usually found under oak trees. When we go hunting we look for oak trees which have an unusual markage around the base.

Top secret tip: Truffles are always to be found under oak trees that are ‘marked’, in french you will hear the words ‘oh ça marque’  which means this is a good place to start looking.  By marked it means the ground around the tree is very bare, the grass grows tightly if at all.

truffle tree grove

Serge, our expert nose and gifted truffler taught Louis and his son how to identify a potential spot, how to go about carefully digging in the earth around and importantly how to distinguish the smell of regular dirt from the sensual aroma of  truffled earth. truffle hunt smelling the earth for truffle montage
Serge uses the “a la mouche” technique, delicately swiping above the earth to see if there are any truffle flies laying eggs. If the small brown fly is present, it is essential to keep your eyes peeled to see where it lands, as this is where it will lay its eggs and critically this particular fly lays its eggs just above a hidden truffle.

the truffle hunting

This day, it was too cold for truffle flies, yes the sun was shining, but the temperature outside was very very cold, too cold for flies to come out and play. This was when Serges 50+ years of experience came into play. He looked out for other giveaway signs, animals burrowing for example and sure enough there was a tiny little mouse hole in the soil under the roots of an old oak tree.

digging for truffle

Serge knelt down close to the soil and peeked into the hole, inhaling deeply he released a deep hearty laugh, for at the bottom of the hole was a tiny mouse nibbling on a truffle. Treasure behold!

finding a truffle hunt

We carefully dug around the hole, unearthing the truffle which was more than heartily ravaged, but Serge assured us that there must be others hidden nearby so we carefully scavenged with our fingers. Raphaels fingers touched on something hard, he smiled, could it be? He took out the toothbrush and lovingly brushed away the fine soil unveiling his first ever truffle find.

finding a truffle on the truffle hunt montage

Even after a little brush, it doesn’t look like much, but wow does it smell amazing!

the truffle find

We find four truffles in total in this one particular mouse hole… each time we take a handful of soil to smell for truffle.

smelling the earth truffle hunting

Detail from the oak tree orchard.

oak

Charlotte & Louis get into the action.

truffling mouche stick

The trees around us are shrouded in a thin layer of frost.

moss tree provence truffle hunt

Here is a better detail of how to comb the ground for Truffle flies

 “Cabassac knew that the truffle wasn’t some kind of hallucinogenic. It didn’t belong, he realized, to the pharmacopoeia of dreams: to those potions, elixirs, that operated so faultlessly on the neurons of the dreaming mind. The power of the truffle resided in something far more subtle, refined. Indeed, it had no direct effect on one’s dream life whatsoever. To the contrary, the truffle affected one’s awakened body, one’s conscious thoughts. It reassured the senses with its warm, earthly aroma, placed one’s entire being in a raised state of receptivity. It didn’t provoke the dream so much as create the conditions—the ‘dispousicioun’ as Cabassac put it—in which the dream might occur. Consumed, assimilated, the truffle would leave him feeling perfectly disposed to receive whatever rich, flickering images those dreams had to offer.”

The Fly Truffler, Gustaf Sobin.

 

 

 

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