Our guide to the Ban des Truffes in Richerenches and the best truffle markets in the Vaucluse
This Saturday (November 16, 2019), the peace and quiet of the village of Richerenches will be shattered by chattering crowds, colourful parades and a whiff of excitement in the air, for it is the annual Truffle Proclamation, marking the opening of Richerenches’ famous black truffle market.
Officially opened by the Confraternity of the Black Diamond and Gastronomy in their ceremonial robes, the Ban des Truffes is the first chance to taste this year’s truffles. Special menus, a chance to go truffle hunting with dogs (pigs lost the gig ages ago on account of being too greedy), tastings, talks and more – it’s not to be missed.
Across the Vaucluse département, from mid-November to mid March, bustling wholesale markets are held, with truffle hunters coming together on the carreau (market floor) to display their rabasses to the dealers and canners who arrive from around France. In Carpentras, the spectacle takes place in the splendid courtyard of the Hôtel-Dieu, while in Richerenches, business takes place around the boots of cars parked in the main street. In both, a smaller area near the wholesale markets is set aside for the public to snap up their fill of Tuber melanosporum (better known as the Black Périgord).
Weekly truffle markets
- Valréas, 8am-12pm, Wednesdays
It may be small but it’s perfectly formed with about a dozen sellers offering a wide variety. You’ll find them at the roundabout next to the War Monument.
- Carpentras, 8am-12pm, Fridays
Wholesale market dedicated to producers and brokers in the courtyard of the Hôtel-Dieu, and small retail market in front of the Carpentras Tourist Office. This is the oldest truffle market and dates back to 1155.
- Richerenches, 9am-1pm, Saturdays
The largest in France, with 700kg sold a day in high season. Head to the Avenue de la Rabasse and breathe in the atmosphere and the heady scent of truffles in the air.
Learn the lingo
La rabasse: the truffle
Caver: foraging, digging for truffles
Rabassier / caveur: person who forages for truffles with help of a dog
Picouloun: small pick with which the rabassier finishes the excavation
A brief history of truffles
Tuber Melanosporum dates back more than 4,000 years ago to Mesopotamia. Widely used by the Greeks, the Egyptians enjoyed it cooked en papillote, while the Romans scoffed it at the theatre like a rather posh pick ‘n’ mix.
But by the Middle Ages in France, it was shunned as satanic because of its dark colour and because it grew in the ground. However, the Avignon popes, followed by Louis XIV, were big fans and helped raise its popularity but even so, it was not until the 20th century that the truffle, thanks to is association with foie gras, really took off.
Your happy, healthy truffle needs three things: the right tree, the right soil and the right climate. Because it has no chlorophyllian function, it has to attach itself to another form of life, and the Black Périgord happens to be partial to a green or white oak or a black pine.
The roots of the host tree and the mycelium associate to form mycorrhizae, which enable the truffle to extract the organic substances it needs from the tree in order to live and grow. Mycorrhizal associations occur either naturally, when truffle spores are present in the soil, or as a result of the planting of pre-mycorhized “truffle” trees.
Once the tree is planted, it takes between seven and 10 years for the first truffles to appear. At the foot of the tree trunk, a “burnt spot” gradually forms where there is no vegetation, indicating the presence of truffles. When it reaches maturity, the truffle gives off a scent which a dog can smell. All you have to do is gently clear away the soil…. et voilà!
The Black Périgord is found mainly in north Vaucluse, Mont Ventoux and the Luberon. Today, natural truffle trees can be found only in the Ventoux region.