December is always a busy month for restaurateurs – hence the absence of a new blog for some weeks, sorry – and it was both pleasure and business to take a week out for the truffle fête in the Gard.
The truffle is serious business as well as gastronomic pleasure in this part of the world. An entire month is devoted to it, with epiphanies, demonstrations, manifestations and dégustations throughout January. But the highlight is the truffle market in Uzès.
The rich, earthy aroma of the truffle pervades all of the Place aux Herbes. In one corner, pigs and hounds are demonstrating their prowess at sniffing out the truffle. In another, the marchands have set out their stall – large companies next to ageing couples who have been fortunate enough to find a couple of these highly prized mushrooms on their land. Others were cashing in: vignerons were boasting of the perfect matching of truffles with their red wine; a stall was selling petits pates Nimois, a sort of mini pork pie made from pork, veal, foie gras and truffles and without doubt one of the most delicious breakfasts I have ever eaten.
“C’est trop chère” say I. “€60.”
“€75” she says.
“€70” I counter.
“Bon.” She extends her hand. I shake it and pass over the money, explaining that these are for my restaurant and so I would like a reçu. She shakes her head, hands me the truffles in a paper bag bearing the logo of a local shop and turns her attention to other trufflers.
In my best Gallic fashion, I shrug. I accept that there will be no receipt, and trust that HMRC back in the UK will understand. We have no time left for debate. We are due to meet Tom and Jim Cantwell at La Terr’In, the restaurant in St Quentin presided over by Chef Axel Bachelard. Like the other restaurants in the Uzège, he is preparing a special menu for the day and each of the seven courses will feature the tuber melanosporum.
What a feast! Foie gras and truffles, egg and truffles, goat cheese and truffles, Bresse chicken stuffed with truffles, truffle risotto, truffle and Armagnac chocolate.
I confess that not one of us was able to complete the the full menu. We were pretty much defeated half-way through. But Axel, charmingly, priced each individual course for us, so that we were able to pay not €60 each for the magnificent seven, but a modest €45 for five.
But even without finishing, we had experienced enough of this mysterious tuber to appreciate why it is so celebrated in kitchens and dining rooms throughout the world.
As Alexander Dumas, said: "The most learned men have been questioned as to the nature of this tuber, and after two thousand years of argument and discussion their answer is the same as it was on the first day: we do not know. The truffles themselves have been interrogated, and have answered simply: eat us and praise the Lord."
He knew what he was talking about.
Today from the everysmith vaults: The anniversaries of Subterranean Homesick Blues and Blood on the Tracks have prompted me to revisit these extraordinary recordings - not that I needed much encouragement, and I still prefer the New York version of BOTT. Live, I was in the audience at Wilde's last Sunday for definitely, positively, absolutely the final Swaps gig before the Beth hiatus. Quite brilliant.