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An afternoon amongst the truffle oaks

The truffle season in the Drôme is from November to February and this period is particularly popular with lovers of fine food! It takes a lot of patience to find truffles, but it is always an enjoyable moment to set off looking for them!
My grandfather owns a hectare of truffle oaks. These oak trees are rather characteristic because under the earth, at the ends of their roots is where the famous black truffle of the Drôme is found.


Searching for truffles

One morning in November, I called my grandfather to ask him to meet me at 2pm at his house. We were accompanied by his loyal companion "Bertie", his Border Collie cross Brittany spaniel, who is especially trained for finding funghi thanks to her sense of smell.
Before setting off in search of the "black diamond", we have to make sure we've got everything we need. We need warm clothing. Wellington boots because the ground is sandy and wet underfoot. A long screwdriver helps unearth the truffles and a small bag to take home our treasures!

Oops, I almost forgot to mention a large handful of treats for Bertie. Without those, it would be more difficult to motivate her!
She can see us getting ready to go and runs out into the field, happy as larry!
My grandfather calls her back to remind her to get to work: "search Bertie!". She's so well trained that she immediately puts her nose to the ground. We let her search and sometimes just guide her from one tree to the next.
A few minutes later she begins to dig into the ground! This is where you have to be careful and make sure she doesn't eat the truffle! Just the firm order "Stop!" is enough to stop her digging. We don't let her dig too far down because she could damage the truffles with her claws.

A successful harvest

Now it's our turn to work. We take the dug out earth in our hands and smell it. The dog found the right spot because we recognise the delicate scent of the truffle!
I dig with my hands just a little to find the treasure... It's not easy to see because it's black. There, I can see it, just below the surface!
I take the screwdriver and drive it deep into the ground, a few centimetres away from the funghi to be sure it's not damaged. A lever movement helps lift up the earth around the truffle and to be able to pull it out! It's a beautiful specimen! It's not too big, it fits into the palm of my hand, but the main thing is that it's not damaged.
We stroke the dog and give her some treats to congratulate her. We put the truffle carefully into the bag, we will clean it when we get back home.

Cleaning and enjoying the truffles

We carry on our search for around two hours. When we're satisfied with our findings, we head back home. It was a successful operation but we have to be careful not to damage them when we clean them. We run tap water over the truffles and brush the rough surface of the funghi very carefully to remove the last traces of sand. Mmmm! This scent really makes my mouth water!
But we'll have to wait a while longer before tasting them. In our family, we keep the truffles for our traditional Christmas omelette.
Here are some recommendations to get the most out of the flavours. We store them in the freezer for 3 to 4 days before the meal. Then, we place the eggs, whole but not broken, in a bowl with the truffles. This allows the eggs to absorb the flavour of the truffles.
On the day, we whisk the eggs and add the finely sliced truffles. After just a few minutes in the pan, the whole family loves these delicious omelettes! 

To discover or rediscover the truffles of the Drôme and the mysteries they hold, I highly recommend the Fête de la Truffe in Valence, which generally takes place at the end of January. There are sales, exhibitions, tastings, local farmer's market and demonstrations of how truffles are found!