During Medieval Times, the village of Richeranches prospered as a Commanderie of the Order of the Knights Templar. It seems the business acumen exhibited by these ancient residents of the village – the Knights Templar (who are often credited with creating the first banking system) – has been inherited by their descendants, as today the village has claimed it’s place as one of “the” weekly venues for a Truffle Market where buyers from throughout France gather to bid for these “diamantes noir” (black diamonds).
These knobby little subterranean nuggets, are often known as the “most expensive food in the world”. These trade at a wholesale and retail level in the local markets, some of them then selling in large towns and cities for up to 3,000.00 Euros per kilo (up to US$1,900.00 per lb), where they will grace the tables of the finest restaurants. Currently, the South East Region of France accounts for a little more than 80% of all truffle production in France. The Northern Vaucluse (where Richeranches is located), and the Southern Drome, account for approximately 60% of that production.
You could just follow your nose, but as you cross the bridge approaching the village, a large “Panneau” announces the “Marche au Truffes” held every Saturday morning between the months of November and March. This Market is serious business – where the “black diamonds” carefully cocooned in cloth or plastic bags, are exchanged between the very knowledgeable buyers who represent wholesalers, restaurants and other agents, and growers, who carefully watch over and tend their truffle oak woods which dot the countryside throughout the Luberon and the Vaucluse. It is a labor of love for the first ten years which is the time it takes before the first truffles begin to appear on the roots of the host trees.
In Richeranches, the third Sunday of January each year sees the well known (and well attended), Truffle Mass.
As this time draws near, the small Provencal village makes preparations to receive thousands and thousands of visitors who will gather as close as they can to the center of the activity at the Church of Notre Dame de Nazareth, so that they can witness the annual Truffle Mass dedicated to St. Antoine – the Patron Saint of Truffle growers. The crowds have grown to such proportions that a giant TV screen are erected outside in the courtyard of the Knights Templars Commandery, so all visitors can get a close up view of the proceedings and join in the ceremony.
The Mass is said in the old Provencal language, during which the truffles are blessed and prayers are offered for a successful truffle harvest. When it is time for the collection, the baskets are filled with truffles, and the church fills with the aroma of the “black diamond” also known as les truffes, rabasse or by its botanical name, Tuber Melanosporum.
Members of the “Conferrerie du Diamante Noir et de la Grastronomie” (the Confraternity of the Black Diamond and Gastronomy), play an important role in the day’s ceremonies as they join in the procession out of the church with the priest out into the square and make their way to the Mairie (Town Hall), where they officiate at the Auction.
This year the Truffle Mass in Richeranches will take place on January 19th.
The Conferrerie offers an aperitif to all those who attend the festivities, followed by a truffle based lunch – a sought after event which requires a ticket.
Many of the attendees who are do not stay for the lunch, take advantage of the “Truffle Menus” offered at Restaurants throughout the area. Truffles in Foie Gras… “Truffled” Boudin Blanc sausage… “Truffled” Cheese … and then of course, the old favorites … Omlette aux truffes.
There is strong interest in “truffles” and gastronomy – a number of truffle growers offer visitors tours of the truffle woods and the experience of a truffle hunt. Below are some of those tours available if you would like to take a truffle tour.
Domaine la Chênaie – Richeranches
Pierre-Andre and Simon Valayer invite guests to Friday afternoon and Saturday morning truffle hunting in Richeranches. After the hunt, attendees can enjoy “truffled toast” and local wine. Attendees may discuss the services they wish during the hunt when they contact Domaine la Chênaie for an appointment. For more information please contact:
Domaine la Chênaie, Le Bois, 84600 Richeranches 04 90 28 03 66 or 06 08 95 42 14
Domaine Saint Alban – Truffle Finding Show
Christian Allegre at Domaine Saint Alban presents a two and a half hour show each day during the months from November until the end of March. Attendance is by appointment only and attendees may participate in truffle estate discovery, truffle finding with a trained dog and finish with wine tasting at the Domaine. For Reservations please call: 04 90 28 01 66
Truffes de Provence – Gordes
Robert Florent – a Truffle Grower – and his dog “Cannelle” guide attendees through the experience of truffle hunting in the wild, from mid-November to the mid-March. Participants are invited to tastings of truffles on toast (yum! My favorite), and wine tasting at his estate in Gordes – La Bastide de Clovis. For more information and reservations:
Quartier les Blayos, 84220 Gordes 04 90 72 11 60
Featured image (Truffle Hunter with dog) by courtesy of Foodrepublic.com