Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
A black Perigord truffle
Picture courtesy of Tourisme Salignac
The truffle season
Périgord truffles will be on the menu when added fresh, as shavings to enhance a dish, or cooked as part the main flavor enhancer of a whole dish. Fresh black Perigord truffles are available from the end of November to mid-March; however, truffles have a short shelf life and any that are not used in a short time will become truffle oil or truffle essence. For more on truffle oil and truffle essence see the end of this post.
Grilled beef fillet, the beef tenderloin with mushrooms and a truffle oil based sauce
Photograph courtesy of Grand Velas Resort
The black truffle of Périgord has many French names: the Truffe de Périgord, Truffe Noire, Truffe Périgourdine, Truffe du Vaucluse, Truffe du Tricastin, Truffe de Bonneville and the Truffe Vraie. (German – schwarze trüffle, echte trüffel, Französische trüffel or perigord trüffel), (Italian- tartufo nero or nero pregiato), (Spanish – trufa de Périgord or trufa negra), (Latin – tuber melanosporum).
The black Perigord truffle on a French menu:
Carpaccio de Bœuf Juste Mariné à la Truffe Noire du Périgord – A beef Carpaccio marinated with the black Perigord truffle; truffle oil will have been used here. For more about the Carpaccio see the post: What is a Carpaccio? How to Order a Carpaccio in France.
Consommé à la Râpée de Truffe du Périgord – A consommé flavored with shavings from the black Perigord truffle. The consommé soup used here will, like all traditional consommés be a clear soup; and here it is almost certainly made with a veal stock that is then flavored with the truffle.
A consommé flavored with the black truffle of Perigord
Photograph courtesy of stu_spivack
Glace à la Truffe Noire – Ice cream flavored with the Perigord truffle; this is a rarely seen dessert; for me, when I next see this on a French menu it will be a rare opportunity.
La Crème Brulée a la Truffe Noire de Perigord – Crème Brulee flavored with the Black Perigord truffle. For more about Crème Brulée and how it became accepted as a French creation see the post: Crème Brulée. Who Created Crème Brulée.
La Demi Langouste en Salade, Huile de Truffe du Périgord – Half a rock-lobster, that’s the owner of the lobster tail; here it is flavored with Perigord truffle oil. There is more about truffle oil and how it is made at the end of this post.
Puligny-Montrachet; a great white wine to pair with rock-lobster flavored with truffle oil
Photograph courtesy of chez pim
Le Risotto Carnaroli à la Truffe Fraîche du Périgord, Copeaux de Parmesan. A carnaroli rice risotto made with the black truffle of Perigord and served with shavings of Parmesan cheese. Carnaroli rice may not be well known, but amongst Italian and French chefs it is indisputably the best, and also the most expensive, rice for risotto. Carnaroli rice comes from the same area of Piedmont Italy that the more well known, and less expensive, Arborio and Baldo risotto rice come from.
Truffled leak risotto
Photograph courtesy of ulterior epicure
L’Oignon de Roscoff Cuisiné à la Truffe Fraîche du Périgord – A Roscoff onion cooked, here it is probably baked, is flavored with the black Perigord truffle; this is an entrée, the French starter. The French in this menu item actually translates as “with a fresh Perigord truffle”; however, there is no way any French chef could or would use a truffle that is not fresh as it would be bland and useless.
Onion Johnnies in Bristol, Wales, the UK; still working in 2003
The onion noted above is the unique Oignon Rosé de Roscoff AOC, from the area around the port of Roscoff in Bretagne, Brittany; this onion has a story known to those from the UK who, until the 1970’s, bought strings of onions from the French farmers who cycled around Britain selling their wares. The history of these so-called onion Johnnies can now be seen in their Roscoff onion museum, the Maison des Johnnies et de l’Oignon de Roscoff. If you love onions then when in the area of Roscoff on the 3rd Saturday and Sunday in August do not miss out on the Fête de l’Oignon de Roscoff, the Roscoff onion festival with its market.
Salade de Riquette à l’Huile de Truffe Noire du Périgord – A salad of wild rocket leaves flavored with an olive oil that have been flavored with the black Perigord truffle. Wild rocket leaves have a cleaner taste than the larger farmed leaves. For truffle oil see below.
Where to find truffles.
The black Perigord truffle became internationally famous in the early 19th century with the formalizing of French Haute Cuisine. This truffle is not unique to Perigord; however, then, two hundred years ago, the old French province of Perigord was the main source and gave this truffle its name, and the name has remained.
Marche de Truffes, a truffle market in Perigord
Photograph courtesy of the Office de Tourisme Valle de la Dordogne
Périgord was a province of France before the French revolution; today that province is mostly included in the département of Dordogne. Lack of understanding of how the truffle reproduces among the oak and hazelnut tree roots has seen the collection of truffles drop drastically; the quantities available are now less that 5% of those available one hundred years ago!
A picture from 1908 with a farmer searching for truffles his trained truffle pig; in this picture the sow is accompanied by her piglets
Photograph courtesy of postaletrice
Truffles have a unmatched ability to flavor food and while famous for their contribution to tastes as they are rare, so they are also expensive. There are six different truffles from the nearly fifteen found in France that may make it to the table, and each type of truffle has a season of only three or four months. If you plan your travels in France, around truffle fêtes and celebrations, you will find that truffles can be an expensive hobby!
A note for chocolate lovers: The original chocolate truffles, the first truffes de chocolat were flavored with real truffles; those will be hard to find today! Most of today’s chocolate truffles will have a soft chocolate ganache inside, many with fruit flavors.
A raspberry flavored chocolate truffle.
Photograph courtesy of ulterior epicure.
Truffe de Bonneville – This is same truffle as the Truffe Noir de Périgord but found in the région of Poitou-Charentes. If you are visiting the région, between December and February then consider that there is a truffle market that begins as 9.00 am every Tuesday in the Hotel Fox; that is in the small town of Jarnac in the département of Charente. Double-check the market days with the French Government Tourist Office as French market days are not written in stone.
A dish of partridge covered in shavings of the Truffe de Bonneville; the same truffle as the Truffe Noir de Périgord
The Truffe du Tricastin –The Tricastin truffle; again the same truffle as the Truffe Noir de Périgord. Here in the village of Grignan, and three other villages close by, between Lyon and Avignon, in the département of Drome, the Rhône-Alpes, Provence, they have truffle markets on Saturday, Sunday and Monday mornings, from mid-November to mid-March; the markets alternate among villages and the French Government Tourist Office will advise you which village is next in line.
Truffe du Vaucluse – Another name for the black Périgord truffle. Vaucluse by using the name of their département they are trying to make sure that everyone knows the source. Vaucluse is a département in the région of Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur. Already at the end of the 18th century the region was well known an excellent place to find the black Périgord truffle.
Truffles in the market
Photograph courtesy of KimonBerlin
To improve the quantities available in the early 1800’s hundreds of oaks trees were planted here; it was then already well understood that truffles loved the root mass of oak trees. Today there are many truffle markets in Vaucluse, and if you are in the area between the beginning of December and the end of February contact the local tourist office and visit one of these unique markets. Today Vaucluse through its foresight in planting of oak trees produces nearly 50% of all the Périgord truffles in France.
Truffle oil and truffle essence.
Essence de Truffe – Truffle essence; this is a concentrated flavoring made by steeping truffle peelings in a sweet wine, usually Madeira; truffle oil is produced in a similar manner but using olive oil. Truffle essence imparts some of the flavor of truffles to dishes while avoiding the of truffle shavings. More importantly, for the chef, truffle essence may be stored and is available all year round. Most French chefs prefer to make their own and then they control the flavor of the finished product.
Bottles labeled Truffle Essence are in the stores, and they are not inexpensive products. In most cases, the contents will be genuine; however, please read the label carefully, the worst offenders have contents that include truffle flavor and those are just chemicals, forget that!
Huile de Truffe – Truffle oil; chefs have made truffle oil for at least two hundred years by soaking truffle shavings in olive oil. The final product is a strongly flavored oil that will add some of the flavor of truffles and truffle oil may also be stored the year round.
Black truffle oil
Photograph courtesy of Iris Out
When you buy commercially prepared truffle oil it is unlikely that the amount of truffles used is anywhere near the amount of truffle a chef would use in his or her home made product. Look carefully at the label and like truffle essences do not buy products that note they are made with truffle flavor; that is not the real thing.
Truffles are a fungi, a subterranean tuber, and while truffles are also members of the mushroom family, they truffles are not mushrooms. Attempts at truffle cultivation are still not supplying many truffles to the market; I have heard rumors of success that come from Spain, however, at the moment that is all I know, rumors.
Also on the menu:
Truffes (en saison) (Les) – Truffles in season.
Truffes Selon Caprices du Temps – Truffles are available according to the quirks of the market! This will be on many menus in areas famous for their truffles.
Bryan G. Newman
Behind the French Menu.
Copyright 2010, 2013
For information on the book behind this blog: