The famous winter truffle market in the village of Richerenches continues every Saturday morning until the end of March. I went for the first time a few weeks ago and loved it. The wonderful smell of fresh truffes hits you before you even see the long row of vans, each with its own cluster of buyers behind it...everyone bundled in warm coats, patiently waiting their turn. With tens of thousands of dollars worth of tuber melanosporum changing hands, there's a hushed sense of serious excitement in the air...along with the very strong, very delicious aroma of fresh truffles. The truffles are meticulously weighed, calculations are made, cash changes hands and sacks are handed over...while gendarmes mill around very visibly, keeping an eye on everything. Most of the sellers here are courtiers en truffes, who buy direct from the trufficulteurs for the purpose of reselling. Sellers without their own vans wander the crowd, their goods tucked carefully out of sight in cloth bundles, plastic bags or market baskets.
At the Saturday truffle market in Richerenches you can also buy truffle-oak saplings, kitchen gadgets to ease truffle handling and even a truffle hound...I saw one very sweet one in a cage, looking a bit forlorn that he wasn't running around the market in the sunshine like all the other dogs. Other vendors sell locally grown produce, charcuterie, olives and olive oils, soaps in delicious scents, nougat and other sweets. It's all very colorful, very authentic and very Provencal. (Other truffle activities appear below.)
Statistics are a bit hard to come by but the Richerenches truffle market is said to be the largest in France and maybe even Europe. It sells both wholesale and retail and many tops chefs in the region shop here. I'm told that 50% of the truffle transactions in Southeast France happen here...accounting for 30% of all the truffles that change hands in France...and that the Vaucluse (one of the six departments in the Provence Alpes Cote d'Azur region) produces 70 percent of all the truffles in France.
All morning long people pop in and out of the Etablissement Cafe, for warming drinks and truffle talk. The intoxicating smell wafts in with them and, by this time, is probably permanently embedded in the walls. By 11:30 the market crowds have dwindled and the Etablissement is packed.
If you hit the day right, you can then move on to a truffled-omelette lunch at the Town Hall/Salle des Fêtes, just a few doors down from the cafe. You'll sit with strangers but no doubt become fast friends, thanks to the Kir that kicks off the meal and the serve-yourself bottles of Côtes du Rhône on every table. The 21€ price includes a salad, a creamy omelette with shaved truffles, bread, dessert, coffee, wine...and lots of juicy local gossip. These lunches fill up quickly so call ahead to reserve (04 90 28 05 34). The last winter-truffle lunch is Saturday March 1st but you can see the full schedule here. There's also an outdoor summer version, at 8 pm on July 14, 2014 (Bastille Day), on the Church Square.
The Richerenches truffle market takes place on Avenue de la Rabasse (Rabasse is Provencal for truffle) and on Cours du Mistral. It runs every Saturday morning, mid November to the end of March, from 9 am to 1 pm. For info, lunch reservations and other upcoming events, contact the Tourist Office at 04 90 28 05 34 or visit their website in English here.
Truffles Elsewhere in Provence...
There's another truffle market in Carpentras, Friday mornings at 9 am, from mid November to mid March, at the Hotel-Dieu. But you have to get there early: the whistle blows at 9 am to mark the start and it lasts only as long as the truffles do, or until there are no more buyers, which means it's usually over in an hour or so. (Get info from the Tourist Office: 04 90 63 00 78 or click here.) Afterwards, have lunch or dinner at Chez Serge, where truffles are the star of the menu this time of year. (Truffle pizza? Yes, please!)
Two other restaurants that specialize in truffles are Chez Bruno in Lorgues in the Var, where you'll encounter a serious, decadent use of truffles in just about every dish including the famous truffled scrambled eggs known as brouillade (Lorgues, 04 94 85 93 93, firstname.lastname@example.org, restaurantbruno.com) and La Beaugraviere in Mondragon, on the N7 north of Orange, where you can indulge in one truffle dish or an entire truffle tasting menu...and an award-winning wine list packed with Rhône vintages (beaugraviere.com, email@example.com, 04 90 40 82 54).
In the Luberon, the village of Menerbes holds its annual Truffle Festival in December. For info on next year's festival: 04 90 72 38 37, 04 90 72 22 05, menerbes.fr.
Also in the Luberon, you can book a truffle hunt at Les Pastras, where an English-speaking guide will take you on a foray into the Provençal countryside in search of winter or summer truffles. The hunt is followed by a tasting of assorted truffle canapés with Champagne. You can also purchase truffles here at less-than-market prices, along with Les Pastras truffle oils and olive oils. For all the info, click here.
In Gordes (Luberon), Robert Florent organizes truffle hunts with his dog Cannelle, followed by wine and a tasting of truffled toasts. You can also buy his truffles and other truffle products and, if you book ahead, possibly stay on for a meal. Truffle hunts are 200€ total, no matter the group size. The hunt with tasting is 250€. Robert works with his son Gael, who speaks some English but it's best if you speak French. To reach them: 04 90 72 11 60, 06 80 55 30 47, firstname.lastname@example.org
There's lots of great truffle info on the Vaucluse Tourism website here.
Finally, the village of Uzes will hold its 21st annual Weekend de la Truffe on Saturday and Sunday, January 18 and 19, 2014. See the schedule (in French here) or get info from the Tourist Office, by calling 04 66 01 60 04 or on their website here.
Photos: 1. Pierre Sauvayre lives in nearby Vaison la Romaine and loves the Richerenches Truffle Market. 2. Delicious truffled omelettes are served up on most Saturday mornings; check the schedule and be sure to reserve ahead. 3. One section of the market is devoted to wholesale only and many of the region's top chefs buy here. 4. The stall selling charcuterie does a booming business on Saturday. 5. A typical seller's rig. 6. Jean-Jacques Bousquie sells a wide range of superb homegrown apples and other produce at the market. 7. Smiley truffle vendor Thierry Vidal in the retail section of the market. 8. Rabasse is Provencal for truffle. 9. Weighing truffles for purchase, the old fashioned way. 10. Decor on facade of a village house. 11. The market also sells tools for handling truffles. 12. The Etablissement: preferred hang out for buyers and sellers. 13. Here comes the truffle truck! 14: A sign on the Mairie boasts the village's status as one of the 100 Remarkable Sites of Good Taste, a designation honoring local foods and producers.