If I say Black Diamond, chances are you’re thinking of cheddar cheese. Not in France though. Black diamonds are more commonly known as truffles, an odd, round mushroom that grows underground in the roots of oak trees, specially seeded with the truffle virus. It can take a decade for a plant to begin to bear, and won’t bear anymore after thirty years or so.
In the Dordogne region, they find them with pigs. I’m told the sow has an unparalleled sense of smell, but that it’s hard to get the truffles out of the pig’s snout. Dogs are more common in Provence, and our “rabassou” or truffle digger has two: Ficelle and Bidule (String and Thingamajig). Once a dog has found the spot, you finish the work with a small trowel or pick, carefully working around your diamond until it rolls out in your hand, with a smell you recognize without leaning down.
Sylvie is not what you’d expect a rabassou to be – an attractive woman with congenial humour. Most trufflelore is the reserved domain of elderly “Provencaux” with suspicious looks and many secrets. Sylvie on the other hand digs with the kids whenever she can. Jonny has become something of an expert, and he’s got the diamonds to prove it.
Truffles taste like nothing else you’ve ever tasted. That doesn’t mean you’ll like them, but you might. We’ve taken to eating them with butter on toast with too much salt. Or in an omelette, with grated parmesan. It seems a ridiculous luxury, given they can range in price anywhere from 500 to 1500 euros a kilogram. On the other hand, they don’t keep more than a few days, and mailing them has not been much of a success to date. So we share with friends, and spoil ourselves, waiting for the day when we will be better organized, with our gluttony in check and ourselves flush with profit. Although, I must confess, I’ve never met a rich rabassou.