The truffle is a an arrogant, mysterious, powerful, knob of wrinkles which generates great commotion upon its arrival in Parisian restaurants and markets, mid-November.
The black ones from the Perigord region of France, are the most revered and expensive. “Why the big fuss over a little fungus?” , you might ask.
First of all, it has an aroma and flavor like nothing else in the world. If you ask someone to describe how it tastes, no two descriptions are ever the same. Vague, mumbled responses from glassy-eyed and confounded truffle lovers include everything from, “It’s a bit like a Northern forest after a great many days of rain” to “Oh, it’s a seductive mix of mulch and the perfume of Autumn.” What?... indescribable, really, except to say that it stirs up strong emotions, and if you watch the expressions on people’s faces while they are dining on let’s say, a home-made pasta dish with truffles, your question will be answered. Truffles mess with the brain and either it works for you or it doesn’t.
Because they refuse to be cultivated, they are even more coveted. And they have very particular specifications regarding where they choose to grow. They like only certain forests, mainly in the Southwest of the country, and will grow only around the base of certain trees, such as the scrub oak.
Truffles are ruthless in their struggle to flourish. For instance, they kill all groundcover above them, so they themselves have access to air. That’s a telltale sign of having successfully discovered one of their elusive haunts, the dead appearance of the growth around the base of the tree. But even more strange than the fungus itself, is the way in which it is uncovered.
It appears that pigs are the best truffle hunters in the world. When sows (females) get a whiff of a truffle nestled underground, they get very excited. It smells just like a male pig. The challenge of the truffle hunt then becomes how to wrest the tuber from the mouth of the two-hundred pound hormonal sow without beating it to death with a stick. Many a truffle has unfortunately been consumed by the porcine hunting aid, employed to merely sniff out the object. That is why nowadays, most French trufficulteurs (truffle hunters) train dogs. Dogs don’t really care for the taste. Their reward is a treat of a more delectable kind, if successful.
In Italy, the most expensive, desirable truffle of all, the White Diamond of Alba is unearthed. People come from all over the world to join truffle hunts.
During the hunting season, the region becomes truffle-obsessed. Hunters stalk the precious commodity at night, to avoid being spotted by other hunters. The next morning at the truffle market, professional chefs, housewives and tourists, are all vying for the best-looking truffles, as if a truffle could be called good-looking.
Decide for yourself, whether truffles rock your world. Go to La Maison de la Truffe. Take a seat, check out the menu, and order a dish prepared with, of course, truffles. See what happens. Are you having a foodie moment? If not,buy a pair of Manolos, and be thankful that you will never be tempted to blow your fortune on fungus.
La Maison de la Truffe
19 Place de la Madeleine
Art Nouveau bees are everywhere. The La Maison Du Miel shop still looks like it did when it opened on the Rue Vignon in 1908, and that’s reason enough to step inside. Then there’s the honey. I love bringing a beautifully flavored honey, like acacia or rosemany, back home with me, where I’ll drizzle it into my daily tea and think of Paris.
They sell honey from bee hives in the Alps and soap made with honey, and beeswax candles and honey-drenched facial products. You can even taste the honey.
Buzz right over.
La Maison Du Miel
Antoine Maille was an esteemed distiller and vinegar-maker. He founded the Maison de Maille in 1720. Inhabitants of the South of France believed that his invention of an antiseptic vinegar, if sprayed on the body, could ward off The Plague.
In 1747, he opened his shop in Paris and became the vinegar-maker and distiller of the King of France. In his shop one could buy mustards which were flavored with herbs and citrus and many unusual, but wonderful ingredients. The original recipes from Monsueur Maille’s book stamped with the arms of the King of France, are still in use.
Mustard is a tricky condiment. It can either elevate a ham sandwich to sublime heights, or it can kill it. Can you imagine a few slices of French country ham, wedged inside the freshest of baguettes, with just a hint of grilled onion and wild thyme mustard? That says yum to me.
I am thinking of ballpark hot dogs, pump-garnished with a glue-like layer of neon yellow gorp. I eat one at every Yankee game. Do you think there is any mustard in that mustard? If you let your dog lick it off your jacket when you get home from the game, and he rolls over and dies, the answer is, no.
Very fine wine and sherry vinegars may also be purchased at Maille, along with pretty little mustard pots, hand painted with traditional Faience designs.
Now here’s something really cool. Folks come in with their personal stoneware vessels and have mustard pumped directly into them. How do you say, ‘Ballpark flavor, please!” in French?
6 Place de la Madeleine