Truffle Hunting in the Dordogne

Firstly, and I would like to get this out of the way. Not all airports are equal. Some are more equal than others. City Airport is a case in point. None of the usual palaver of walking miles and miles once you’ve got there to try and find your gate. None of the waiting around carousels for your baggage to appear. Departing from City Airport turns out to be rather a well kept secret. You mention City Airport to people and they say, “Oh yes I used City and it was brilliant”. Well if it’s brilliant why aren’t people shouting about it? OK so they want to keep it a secret. Well I’m about to spill the beans. It took us precisely one hour to get there from Notting Hill (Friday morning 8.30 a.m.) and one hour to return to Notting Hill (Sunday 9.00 p.m.) When you get out at City Airport from the DLR the airport is there, right in front of you. Check in took about 60 seconds. Cost-wise, once you’ve added all the implausible extras from ‘no frill airlines’ you might as well have paid City Jet the same but have far less bother. Have I said enough?

City Jet fly to numerous places in France. Margaret and I flew to Brive, in the Perigord region of the Dordogne Valley. Our purpose? To hunt truffles and learn how to cook truffles and foie gras. A hard weekend. Within an hour of landing we were hunting truffles in the truffle area of Yssandon. Truffles can be found in three ways, by using a pig (somewhat unreliable as the pig will enthusiastically eat the truffle), flies (I won’t go into this here) or a dog. We met Jean-Pierre accompanied by his young dog who was definitely more interested in playing. She was quickly replaced with Pif, a 14 year old, experienced ‘truffle hunter dog’. Together we found lots of truffles. One so large that it sold on the market the next day for 180 euros. Truffles found in this area are known as The Black Diamond Truffle. They can be found from December to February and are highly prized. Collected in wicker baskets lined with the traditional red checked cloth, truffles have a very distinct scent, stronger in scent than when actually eaten. They tend to grow, as a fungi about 35 cm beneath the earth, on the roots of oak or hazelnut trees. One easy way of working out whether you might find truffles is whether there is a barren patch of earth surrounding the tree on the grass level. If it’s barren it means there are truffles since they are taking away all the moisture from the surface.

Truffles can be eaten both raw or cooked. Raw can be on sour bread with foie gras, or crushed with salted bread. Cooked could be as a brillarde – a form of runny scrambled egg or omelette with truffle – a traditional dish for all truffle aficionados. Other examples are Limousin beef fillet, with black truffle spelt risotto; roasted wild turbot with black truffle mashed potato; sea scallops cappuccino with black truffle or as a sauce with veal. To my mind the two most simple but delicious ways of eating truffle are (a) sliced truffle sandwiched between two layers of young brie, on bread or (b) truffle with foie gras and a tiny bit of truffle oil, flashed grilled. In both these examples the taste and texture of the truffle really shine.

The weekend of 14/15 January was La Fete de la Truffe held in Sarlat – a beautiful and traditional French market town. Tiny quaint cobbled streets, a traditional market square where the old and the young sample dishes of foie gras and truffles and chefs show off their culinary skills. Each truffle on sale at the market is checked for freshness and quality (if the truffle is ‘wet’ or a bit squishy, then it’s off). But there’s more to see here than just truffles and people eating and drinking. A must is the trip in the Vue du Ciel a glass lift to view the town from above. Masses of higgledy piggley roof tops in reds, oranges and browns, like a Klee painting, adorn the vista. You could imagine this was how London looked pre the Great Fire. Very close together, all shapes and sizes, turrets, flat roofs, steep roofs, etc. You really don’t expect this surprise as you ascend in the lift. Apparently it is equally beautiful at night.

As part of the Fete de la Truffe, the Academie Culinaire du foie gras et de la truffe takes place – here one star Michelin chef Daniel Chambon taught us how to make ‘Petit chou farci de foie de canard a la truffe, brunoise de legumes et de truffes’. Which, like most cookery demonstrations looked simple enough. It certainly tasted delicious. Later in the afternoon it was our turn to try and under the eye of Henry Florance, a group of enthusiastic novices (of varying degree of culinary talent) tackled a gratin of foie gras, truffles and vegetables. And for a group of enthusiastic novices, the results were surprisingly good.

A weekend in the Dordogne (Friday – Sunday) is a wonderfully easy (and stress free) escape from City Airport with plenty to do and see, and if you love truffles, go before the end of February.


How to get there:

What to do/see:
Vue de Ciel, Sarlat: www.sarlat-tourisme.com About 5 euros per person
Jean-Pierre Vaujour email:  jp.vaujour@wanadoo.fr / (only speaks French)

Where to stay:
Manoir de Malagorse www.manoir-de-malagorse.fr
Chateau de Lacan, Brive www.chateaulacan.com
Le Pavillon Saint-Martin Hotel www.hotel-saint-martin-souillac.com


CityJet flies to Brive twice a week from London City.  Their one way fares start from as little as £79, including all taxes. To book flights visit www.cityjet.com or call reservations on 0871 666 50 50. 

Lucy Elliott (Editor) and Margaret Mervis (Travel Writer) of The Kensington Magazine were guests of the above.

Images and copyright: Lucy Elliott/The Kensington Magazine