Saturday, February 20, 2016

New Colors, Always Beautiful - My Favorite Potter

 Following a path I know infinitely well, roads I've traveled more times than I count, I turn at the last roundabout and follow the hand-painted village signs towards bulls, the Petite Camargue and the Potter. This is the village of Le Cailar, and home to a pottering family. From mother to daughter, from daughter to husband. Creativity, strong family ties, joy, connections, unbelievable numbers of hours working. Radiant smiles whenever I see them. The world sends them their share of troubles, though this little back garden feels as close to Paradise as one could reach, and they weather them.
My memories overwhelm me, but the present takes precedence. I take Véronique in my arms - I've been away so long, and it's been multiple years that we've not seen each other. I can't only give her the classic bises as greeting, I must give her a hug, I must hold her. And, joyously, generously, she is willing. I love this woman and her family, and seeing them again, well, healthy, there, with a whole new surge of creativity and beauty pouring from their hearts and their hands. Tears well up.

No, this is not your normal: look at the lovely wares of my artisan article. I can't help but add my emotions into the mix. I lived 18 years in this world, now 3.5 years ago, and coming back, being so warmly received, everything is tinged in more than rose-colored glasses, more like deep, rich, roaring ochre from the clay beneath my feet here.

Véro has started playing with three dimensions in a way she'd not done before. And she's started creating characters in this new world. For years she made exquisite and personalized marriage plates (I've offered these to more than a few friends) and birth plates (Jonas has one) that have lovely personages on them, much like the little girl above on this plate. Now, however, she's taken this idea and run with it. She's started created exquisite plant and garden art.
And vases to be hung on your wall (these are reminiscent of a shape her mother used to work with).
 She's now making tall vases, and cooky jars and, simply beautiful - if fragile - dolls where the hair, the accessories, the dresses, the add-ons are all inspired by the flood of quirky and bewitching images that stream through her. Visiting mid-winter, her collection was much diminished by Christmas markets. But she's getting back to work, and I imagine by Easter, her shop will be full of marvelous new subjects. And, if you are lucky enough to visit, or to spy her at one of the many regional potters' markets, do give her my best!

I've likely brought quite a number of my readers to this little shop over the years. So, you will join with me in also appreciating (and coveting) some of the new colors that Véro has started working with. The designs are reminiscent of her classic style, but she has turned towards new pallets of colors, in particular a rich red base and a deep dark blue. Having recently visited Norway, I am struck that these have an almost Scandinavian feel to them. She's even playing with simply 2 colored pieces - something very unusual for this self-proclaimed over-decorator.

I do think I need to organize that special pottery tour like I'd always considered way back when. We would need to organize safe shipping, or come prepared for adding a second over-sized hard-sided box to the airplane allotment. What do you think? Tempted?

From mother to daughter: an inheritance of skill, creativity, joy and life.

Friday, February 19, 2016

Being French Again - un rappel

I was French again for three weeks. Granted, I'm a French citizen, and have been for a third of my life, but even so, it is when back on French soil, living in France, that my French me comes back to the fore.

It happens slowly. First I had to get in a car and depart snowy Northern Michigan, in a lake effect blizzard no less, and drive to Chicago where I spent a lovely evening with dear friends and voracious travelers. We shared my cheese, my venison pâté, their good wine. The next morning I stepped out into perhaps the coldest morning I've experienced in my entire life. I don't think Manhattan winters were ever this bad. Chapeaux to my Chicago friends for surviving that cold! Wow. And then off to the airport, and the two planes to Marseille, then the ride to my home. Then in through that blue door with my name afixed to it. A tangible note stamping this my place.

What is the most French of all? What is iconic and simply screams French? Well, un café et une brioche bien dorée. Exquisite, simple, lovely. That hit of dark power slips down my throat, the golden tender crumb is even better dunked in the dark thick café. Dense enough for a spoon to stand upright, or dissolve, take your pick. And around me hums the weekend shoppers at Les Halles, choosing their vegetables, their petits plats, breads, cheeses, charcuterie, oysters from a nearby estuary off the Mediterranean, or imported overland from Brittany. Baskets, rolling carts, filled and overflowing. Babies in back carriers, couples strolling together after perhaps a magical night of dancing, grandfathers introducing their grandchildren to the buzz and joys of shopping for the family meal. Yes, this is very French. And no doubt Italian, and I'm sure resonates for a number of other cultures. But here, well, I'm in France, Avignon, the heart of the Côte du Rhône Valley where so many are revelling in the unseasonably beautiful weather, strolling the city streets, sitting outside in the bright sunshine, covered for the chilly breeze but soaking up the winter rays. Is it really mid January?

 I'm here to work and to play, or perhaps more specifically, to reconnect. I've truffles to purchase and guests arriving shortly, so I'll be readying my guest bedrooms and doing a top to toe cleaning/dusting of my home, my garden, my front yard. My larder must be filled, my home made ready, the wood stove stoked, the fallen sycamore leaves raked away. Care-taking and tending is needed. I need to call my artisan colleagues and organize our week of truffling, cooking, marketing, wine tasting and more. But this doesn't feel like work. I'm calling friends and colleagues. I'm scheduling visits to places I love and where I feel ever so welcomed. I've left American politics and the craziness of this non-stop presidential race far far away. Or at least that is one of the goals.
I purchase 250grams of truffles to start the week. Then I check under my stairwell to see if what I'd put away last year (what wasn't drunk last year - when we made a serious dent in my wine cellar over the 2 weeks of classes and numerous dinners and visits at the house). What more do I need? A selection of cheeses, raw milk to make some ricotta/brousse and pastry cream, eggs from a local supplier, and vegetables to balance out the richness of the week's fare. But I also stop by the organic whole sale supplier where I pick up my favorite organic flour blends. I get some baker's yeast from M. Le Blanc in Arles, where I also pick up a box of chocolates and two variations on the Kings' Cake.

I start my bread, pull my personal dishes out of storage, make up the beds, scrub the bathroom and kitchen surfaces, mow the lawn, and then take a moment to walk outside, on my favorite path by the Rhône.

 I also need to orchestrate seeing close friends. How to do this when I've a full program with guests? When your friends are patient and willing to adapt to your crazy schedule, it does help. So right away, a special lunch in the Lubéron where I finally get to see the wonderful new home of my dear friend Nathalie. Her companion has chosen a special wine for me, she serves a delicious quiche, salad and tart. And the conversation flows -- I confess I'm so excited to be back, to be with her, to be again at a French table where conversation is art, life, vibrant, leaping, never still... Nathalie understands, and I think realizes that if we had more than one day to see each other, I wouldn't be quite so intense. I'm bursting to communicate, analyze, comment, question. She has been living a very interesting passage with family, children, inheritance, art, teaching, making ends meet (she's very gifted at coping - and like myself, has lived the peripatetic life, which doesn't lend to accumulating a huge retirement account). I love that she is willing to share, and to go to these personal topics, as well as covering politics, bringing me up to speed on what's going on in the South. I am overflowing, quite literally, with the urgency and delight of being here, with her, with a friend so open, smart, communicative. I probably talked her out (or listened her out). But, well, she got me right off the boat when I was exceptionally un-grounded and craving such wisdom/humor/energy. But then, that's a dear and special friend. Right?

As the chèvre-feuille climbs to the balcon above, warmed by the life-giving sun of the South, so I too find myself, nourish myself as I seek to nourish others, sharing what is so special in this part of the world I have called home.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

It's time for a Decadent Winter Tour!

Winter is on the horizon. Though I'm currently spending most of my time in the potentially very cold north lands of Upper Lower Michigan, land of two Polar Vortexes in a row...  I'm choosing to not dwell on these details (though yes, I'll get those snow tires on my car!) and contemplate the virtues of this season.

- a break from making cheese &

- a trip back to Avignon.

While there, I'll be offering a course on Truffle hunting, Preparing Duck Confit and Foie Gras, Exploring the decadent joys of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines and Savoring great Chocolates in my former (and on-going) role as a cooking teacher and culinary tour guide in Provence.

With chef Erick Vedel at my side to guide us through the varied preparations - think foie gras mi-cuit, smoked magret de canard, duck-fat fried potatoes, truffle risotto, truffle omelettes, and truffled home-made pasta.....,

One week of glorious winter foodie decadence in Provence,

January 24-January 31

Early morning truffle markets, Provençal (yes, it is a language all its own) murmurring softly as the transactions flow from seller to buyer. Anywhere from 250Euros a kilo up to 800Euros a kilo depending on demand, quality and quantity. What will this season bring? Luckily for those who accompany me late winter is the best time for black truffles.

Little known is that Christmas and New Year's are times when truffle prices are pushed way up for the festive holiday diners, but in fact, the truffles are rarely at their best. The knowledgeable gourmet awaits late winter, when the air is still chilly, but the sun is out, the ground a tad firm, mostly dry, not yet soaked with early spring rains. It is the moment the truffles come into their peak flavor, and often, the prices have lowered due to less demand.


I can still take a few more people with me. Our favorite local B&B in Avignon, run by lovely Béatrice still has room as does my touring vehicle and kitchen. The Euro to US Dollar rate has been favorable to the Dollar this year, so I've been able to lower the price per person to: $2975 all inclusive, or a special 10% discount for 2 who travel together: $5355.


So, come farce your fresh fowl with truffles. Take the grater, and the chunky truffle and shave as much as you like over your lightly poached eggs with still warm brioche on your plate. This is your time to indulge!


We'll join our master truffler (or rabbassao) as he heads through a grove of twisted black oak trees, over short stone walls, following an eager and excited dog seeking out that elusive yet potent scent. A happy yelp, quick digging with his strong front paws, and out comes a black nugget of flavor. The potent aroma of the truffle invades the dirt surrounding it, and wafts up to you standing close by.

To accompany our feasts and travails we'll taste some of the great wines of the Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacquéyras... We'll spend a morning at multiple wineries savoring a vertical tasting of these grenache heavy blends. Strawberry jam? Russian leather? smooth and fruity? spicy and dense? chewy tannins? a touch of barnyard? herby Garrigue notes? These and more may come to you as we swirl, sniff, and swoosh in our mouths. And as I'm driving, just enjoy. No need to spit.


To enliven conversation and share our feasts I'll invite some of my favorite artisans to join us at the table.

Oh it's going to be a wonderful and special week. And likely the last time for a good long while that I'll be able to offer these tours. Once I start my next creamery, I'll not be able to get back to Provence for more than a couple weeks here and there. So, if you're tempted (and I hope you are!) this is the time to book your tickets (during the least expensive period of the year) and come !!! Looking forward to hearing from you: Winter Truffle Tour 2016

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Tapping into my Acquis - Wine & Teaching

I love this expression, mes acquis. That which you have acquired, that which you own, and in this sense, my skills and knowledge. In the many years, the many lives, the many projects I've managed, I've come away richer in much, if not in gold.

As I put my efforts to creating a fulfilling life in a beautiful community, known frequently as a place where, "half the pay is the bay," I am tapping into my various skills, and rediscovering how deep my knowledge is, and how it might carry us forward.

Wine and teaching. I've done so much of both. So, it's rather a natural progression to develop this angle further. The last time I hoped to make wine a major part of my professional life, the timing was terrible. The dollar was weak. The US had just experienced the financial crash/housing crisis, and I was hoping to use my experience at the side of an organic vintner to sell French wines to the US distributors. To do so, I honed my tasting skills, my teaching skills, and my knowledge of the wines themselves. However, I did not have the personal nor professional funds to ship and carry wines to the US repeatedly in order to find those importers/distributors.  Too late I realized that one must present wines again and again, proving consistency and professional commitment, before finding a business partner. And so, for the time being, I shuttered that possibility.

Yesterday, after a fruitful discussion with a colleague who runs a professional culinary school, I've submitted a proposal for an intensive wine tasting and food and wine pairing program for his students. As I put it together, it was so clear how I would progress, what subjects were important to cover, how I would balance the intellectual and the practical.

I think back to the many wonderful professional wine tasting experiences I've had, with the top experts in the field such as Karen MacNeil, with my chef sommelier in Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Guy Brémond, with the many vintners who received me generously into their wineries and explained at length the processes they used, tasting from the barrels, tasting from the tanks, tasting bottles both young and old, tasting, savoring, describing, explaining. And yes, I remember back to the years I spent alongside an organic vintner who shared every step of his world with me. Thus, I've been there, from harvest through winter pruning. I've been there to taste and blend with the oenologist. I've been there at wine fairs, tasting, selling, discussing.

And then there was that huge translation project I (happily) plowed my way through, the Bettane & Dessauve.  All the tasting notes for every wine they considered worthy, throughout every region of France (except Burgundy and Bordeaux, which my colleagues kept for themselves). I put together a massive list of specialized vocabulary, and eagerly went out to taste some of the most interesting options. 

So, add in my Waldorf teaching experience, and the twelve years' running a cooking school in Provence, and well, what a perfect fit! Stage one - wine intensive; stage two... sensory analysis on a deeper and wider level: cheeses, beers, chocolate.

So, the proposal went off yesterday. We shall see...

Saturday, September 5, 2015


It's been a doozy of a year. As my son Jonas says ever so simply: a lot has happened. Catching our breaths, living under the same roof, grounding our lives in some semblance of normalcy. These seem to be our main goals right now.

Balance: living both as American and French nationals.

This is a goal. Not always easy to manage, but still a goal. For the kids this meant Jonas in France for much of this school year, reintegrating his Waldorf school, and living with his father. For Leo, that meant a long and leisure-filled summer in France for his 18th birthday. For me, this means getting back to France every winter to care for my home and to offer Winter Truffle and Foie Gras Tours.

In the meantime, we are now reunited in my family summer home in Traverse City, enjoying the end of summer quiet, the last of the heat, and a very late Labor Day. Most of our extended family has departed for their winter lives and homes. Schools start up on Tuesday. Later than I've ever experienced. When was the last time Labor Day came this late? I imagine we were back in France with schools that began on August 29th at the time.

I've had some fantastic work experiences this year - consulting on a goat farm in North Carolina, helping them improve their lactic cheese makes, tweak their blue cheese-make and develop a new washed rind soft cheese; the last won an award at the American Cheese Society this summer. I've also visited other colleagues and worked along side them, sharing my skills and knowledge, and picking up some new skills and ideas through observing them and chatting over a meal, wine, and nibbles of cheese.

During this pause in my full-time cheese making life, I'm contemplating different futures, different possibilities, different projects. I'm also simply looking at different ways to make ends meet in the meantime. Life doesn't stop and top of the list each day is caring for my children and paying the numerous expenses a life accumulates. I'm also treasuring my friends, consolidating our affairs, considering book projects, and reaching out. It's a luxury to have time to plan and plot.

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

Truffle hunting in the snow

 After five weeks of attending the Carpentras Truffle Market assiduously every Friday morning, I seem to have become a fixture. Or at least, many men are looking at me wondering who is this woman? and perhaps I've got some official credentials for being there? Perhaps that she's is a journalist? or?

I've also persuaded one man to take me and my guests out for a tour and a truffle hunt. It was the old photographer's trick. Take good pictures, and give them to him. Come back, purchase truffles. Be present but not intrusive. Next thing you know... he's offering.

And so a plan was made for a Monday morning. However, that Sunday, the Mistral was blowing at 140km/hour, trees were down on the roads, and it was scary even considering leaving the house to bring my son to his friend's for the night. Checking the météo it was clear that truffling that Monday was not going to happen. So, I replaced the day's events last minute with some wine tasting at Châteauneuf-du-Pape (always a Plan B in my pocket), and arranged to meet the truffler close by his village on Tuesday morning.

There was a dusting of snow still on the ground, but the sun was shining brightly and the wind had calmed down. One couldn't ask for more lovely weather and conditions for being out truffling.

We climbed into his car alongside his dog, piled into the dust and muddy floors, and then off he zoomed to his truffle properties. Down bumpy dirt roads, off to one direction and then another, spectacular views of vineyards and the hillside town beside us, till we ended up in a scrub-brush surrounded clearing filled with oak trees of many sizes and ages, plenty of wild juniper (Cade), and a few ancient dry stone bories in various states of repair. You could imagine being here in another age, perhaps with goats out nibbling the bushes, and huddling away into the dark and protected circle of stones when a sudden averse rained down upon you.
A bit worried by the thin city boots on one of my guests (her luggage had been lost for over six days by Air France!), he set off with his faithful canine colleague to see what he would find. I promised him that we were happy to simply be with him during this hunt, if we did or didn't find truffles, it would all be ok. More than once, he stopped, looked around, took a deep breath and shared how much he loves going to work every morning.
One of the things to know about experienced trufflers. They really know their lands and where truffles will be and should be. They've explored them carefully with very good dogs, repeatedly. And, once you've a tree that produces, it will continue to do so for years going forward. Thus, really, when they go out every week to harvest, they are guiding their dog to the best spots, encouraging him to sniff out in a far smaller radius than we imagine.

And so it was for us this day. We followed our guide across his orchard, to particular trees, by particular bushes, and in most cases there was something to dig up. Not always, but he found a good handful that day.
His dog was a funny one - trained to start digging (and thus save his master a bit of manual labor) he would occasionally break a truffle. But, the benefits of his front paws outweighed any loss of small truffles. This dog also was quite clear that he was a necessary part of the operation. As such, he happily received a treat when he found a truffle. But, he would also demand a second treat before getting back to work.  You could see him hang back, waiting, pretty much letting his boss know that yeah, he'd get back to work, but, ahem, ... cough it up first buster.

Our guide is an entrepreneur. He started out as a farmer, but then switched to stone masonry and repairing and renovating the traditional stone homes of the Lubéron. He now has a couple rental properties that he manages. He also purchases, restores and resells vinyl records with images on them, and he has a whole stash of books he sells second hand. Truffling is something he's come to more recently, and he's attacked it with a vengeance. He's read, interviewed, investigated, followed and learned all he can of the tuber melanosporum. And now he has purchased and renovated quite a number of truffle plantings that others invested in, tended and then gave up on.

Over the past twenty years, it has become a trend to plant truffle mycelium injected/infected oak or walnut trees on property that looks propitious for truffles. (limestone, good drainage, good exposure). I used to hear that in general 15% of your trees would bear in 15-20 years. As such, it was as much an investment for your children as for yourself. Purchasing lands that were in disrepair, but already planted with these trees, my guide had gone about pruning, clearing, and healing his lands. And, he's been well rewarded.

Once our hunt was over we went back to his house for an apéritif. My client with her thin city boots put her feet up by the fire in his wood stove, and we all enjoyed a glass of rosé. He showed us how he brushes off his truffles, divides them into various quality levels - brumales, mediocre, broken, good but small, good and good sized. He stores them in cloth bags in a cold place, and then brings them to sell Friday morning in Carpentras. He also has private clients who call him and request shipments - throughout France and the European Union.

So he's both a truffler and a seller. A less common combination in that world where often there is a stark division between the trufflers (rabassaou) and the buyers/resellers (courtiers). As I hung around the truffle market on those Friday mornings, I'd get into conversations, or simply sidle over and start listening. The discreetly dressed, scruffy haired, capped paysans would explain to me that those on the outside of the ring of tables (the sellers) arrived in rusted out 2cheveaux, wore muddy boots, and hoped for the best. Those on the inside of the rind, (the buyers) arrived in BMWs and Mercedes, wore leather jackets, schnazy shoes and pretty much had the power in their hands. It was confided to me that the Courtiers got together ahead of time and set the price they were willing to pay. Thus, though from the outside, witnessing the price per kilo range from 190-240Euros the first week I was there (right after the New Year) to a high of 650Euros and back down to 450-500Euros my last week, seems pretty random and chaotic, it was actually pretty tightly controlled. The outside elements: rain, the Mistral, holiday weekends - quality, quantity and demand - were calculated into the estimates. Then men (and women) carrying upwards of 15-20,000Euros in cash in a pouch draped across their chest, carefully held under their coats, called the shots.

My last morning at the market I spent time chatting with a Courtier. He was gracious and informative, letting me know that in general, he purchased between 25-30 kilos each week, and that his primary markets were Manhattan and LA, where he had a personal/professional connection with an ex-pat Frenchman (or woman) who did the selling on the ground there. As he bantered back and forth with one of the more scruffy of the gentlemen who are present weekly at the market, after taking a good sniff in his canvas bag, "voleur ! tu n'as que des brumales, je n'en veux rien de ton sac ! va abuser un autre" the other retorted laughing, that he knew he had true melanosporum truffles in his bag, and he'd be off to find a purchaser more worthy. Perhaps..

I downed my café noisette, took a last few photos, and off I went. Next time, I hope to repeat my attendance, and perhaps, be taken into the inside ring to sniff and inspect alongside the Courtiers. At least as I left that sunny morning, it felt quite possible, and only another few visits away.

Friday, February 6, 2015

Sitting by the Fire

So, it's a Friday night. I suppose I could have gotten all dressed up and gone out to Tango. But this trip to Provence has not been one for dancing. My main occupations have been caring for my house, which, after three years of rentals and months of being empty, has been in need.

And, I suppose that I too have been in need. In need of caring and repairing and designing and laying my imprint on a place and space. I understand that renters have the legal right to paint and in some instances re-configure rental homes/spaces. But, I've never dared. However, in my own home, I can and I do. And it feels good. It is the act of re-appropriating through care & labor.

I pretty much got off the plane a month ago (tout juste), walked into the house and starting attacking projects. Floors have been painted, as have walls & radiators. Leaks fixed (or at least spotted so they will get fixed). Plumbing fixtures switched out. A new boiler installed. Electrical fixtures replaced and updated. Walls re-configured (in the bathroom). And most recently, broken clay tiles from my and my sons' bedrooms are being replaced & affixed. If only this last task were as easy to do as it is to convey in one short sentence. The dust that has been stirred up by the crumbling cement/plaster joints, the sand beneath this thin layer upon which the old tiles once were sturdily stuck. Jonas' room has now a pit in the middle, gray with drying cement, piles of cleaned ancient tiles lined up ready to lay. A thin layer coats most everything. Ah well, I had been going to get rid of most of those books anyway, and move that book case, and revacuum every surface, and change all the sheets, and re-wash all his clothes... just not right away.

My room has less dust stirred about, but it too has many missing tiles. So many have gotten broken over the years as they started moving and wobbling, and weakening and then cracking.

The thing with beginning such projects, is that you simply have to finish them before you head out. And so, rather than going out to dance the tango, I'm doing what work I'm able to do here.

However today, the work included drafting my program for the upcoming Winter Truffle Tour. And it included a morning visit (my 5th in a row) to the Carpentras Truffle market. It proceeded to a café shared with one of my truffle hunters, discussions of Nyons olive oil, home-made wild boar ham, and curing black olives. - I took careful notes.

This is the first time I've done culinary tours since I departed to start the goat farm in the US. It has been a truly wonderful time re-integrating myself into a past life, but a life that is still vibrant and filled with great rencontres, dear friends and colleagues, and so many opportunities to learn and connect.

And so, I ready myself for my next Stage Culinaire. It begins Sunday. And I've my program ready to go, and my shopping list for tomorrow. Truffles are already embedded in rice for the risotto. Onward.

Friday, January 16, 2015


Back at the truffle market at Carpentras, the oldest market of truffles in France (or the world no doubt - I was told the date of 1155), located in the region where the best and the most truffles traditionally have been found. This being France, and most particularly Provence, anyone who has read a bit of Alphonse Daudet's Tartarin de Tarascon will recognize the extreme dimensions of all things of this most beautiful place in the world (is there another? Many Provençaux never range more than 50 kilometers from their birth place).

 From the annals of History:

Man has known & relished the truffle since High Antiquity; she used to be celebrated for her aphrodisiac virtues. However, during the Middle Ages, the truffle lost its luster and was associated with evil and the devil. At that time it was food for pigs (sound familiar? - see the story I was told yesterday of how to make the best blood sausages...), pigs being considered the most un-pure of animals by the Catholic Church. It isn't until the end of the Middle Ages, early Renaissance that the truffle was rehabilitated by the Popes, then based in Avignon, who brought it back to his banquet tables.  

 We were three today to visit the market, myself, Erick (my former husband) and Eric (my colleague chef from Traverse City). As we arrived, the wafting scent of truffles began to invade our nostrils. Happily, none of us were suffering a sinus attack. 

This is very masculine world, though the rare woman rabbasier (truffle hunter/grower) and courtier (official purchaser) mixed amongst them. Elegance is a rare trait (though a few of the courtiers sport their elegant leather jackets and snappy felt fedoras). Much as I try to avoid the clichés made so famous by Peter Mayle (and more honestly Jean Giono and Marcel Pagnol before him), we had entered into a group of relatively diminuitive, gray-haired men, in non-descript jackets, work boots and closed expressions. Small groups of them clustered about the square, slyly opening up their sacs, meeting with colleagues, making small deals before the official market began. 

I found myself beside an elderly man, (or did I sidle up to his elbow?) with a slight shake to his hand and a bushy white mustache. Putting timidity to the side, I asked him how his harvest was this week? And compared to the week before? And what is the going rate? How's it been this season? Where abouts did he hunt his? Oh, the Mt Ventoux? Hm, and might I take a look at his? Ahhh and how much are in that sac? I felt them carefully for firmness, noted that the dirt had been rubbed off, and made my own little deal.  


Officially, you cannot sell or purchase less than a kilo of truffles if you participate in the official market. Thus, if your sac is a bit on the light side, making a discreet deal before (or after) makes good sense. And, if you catch someone who's eager, foreign, a bit out of the loop (ahem), you can make a bit more. i.e. We purchased 280grams for 80Euros before the market based on a range of 300Euros to the kilo. In the end, the truffles sold today for between 190 - 240Euros/kilo. So, we were far from ripped off. But, had we waited, we might have had more for less. (There's always next week). 

At 8:50AM all move to the interior courtyard of the Mairie, the official heads of the market arrives, parking his car in the reserved spots. The police are there, blocking all further traffic. Barriers are put up around the square of tables. All the sellers enter and prepare their bags. At the sound of the whistle, 9AM sharp, the courtiers enter and the market begins.

Today's market went quietly and slowly. Even here we feel the effects of a poor economy, ruffled feathers, minor fears. I addressed on of the official market men (a colleague Erick remembered we'd been presented to years before by a colleague from Châteauneuf), and opened my eyes wide, nodded my head in encouragement, and got a wonderful earful of history and tales. Many's the time, he said, that had he turned his back on the market, there'd be nothing left 10 minutes later. But, today, more than a half hour passed, and still, there were a couple sacs on the table. It wasn't a great day for the sellers. The courtiers, however, had their pick.

As we departed, my new friend gave me some good addresses, private phone numbers and suggestions for the weeks to come. And next week, I'll bring my better camera :-) Now that he knows me, in I'll go, and respecting the unspoken rules not to take portraits (darn!) I'll be permitted to snap a few up close.

There are still spots left in my Winter Truffle Tour in 8-15 February

And note that with the dollar getting stronger and stronger, I've adjusted the prices down on the web site to reflect the shifting value.