The truffle, also called the “black diamond” is hunted, displayed on market stalls and delights diners’ palates at this time of the year. “Tuber Melanosporum” is the botanical name of this precious mushroom which arouses such keen interest.
In order to develop, it needs a host tree (oak, hazel), limestone soil and a Mediterranean-type climate. These three conditions come together in the Lot, which is one of the major truffle-producing departments in France.
It hides in the thin, calcareous soils of the Causse, grows when it feels like it and is hunted nowadays with a specially-trained dog. With even greater persistence, some people create truffle oak plantations (truffières) hoping that it will grow… it takes at least 15 years to get a result! Truffle hunting is organised from December to March. This is the moment to visit a “truffière” or to watch “le cavage” (hunting for truffles). Its characteristic scent pervades the markets (Lalbenque on Tuesday and Limogne on Friday mornings). The most famous is that of Lalbenque.
Ranged along the main street, tables, closed bags and people await. At precisely 14h a whistle is blown, the bags are opened a fraction, customers peer in, sniff carefully, and the negotiations begin! It’s like a theatrical performance, a complete pandemonium! Men surveying the scene, chewing on stubbly cigars, women gossiping in small groups and laughing, folks huddling in groups, clustered around something unseen in a vaguely sinister way, and wary buyers lifting baskets of truffles right under their nose to inhale the raunchy, explosive smell of the goods were all part of the mix. Unlike other markets in France, it’s up to the buyer to name the price, to make an offer. Since these people have just two months to make their money, they’re not all that willing to let them go for too cheap. Prices can go up to €950/kilo or more….depending on the harvest.