Truffle hunting (oink oink, SNORT!), gooey chocolate truffles, and doing the truffle shuffle (I inadvertently have earned the right through this food writing of mine), regardless of what truffles make you think of, the fungal variety, growing underground and snuffed out by dogs and less so now, pigs, are a wonder. Rich, funky, and smelling of things that most people won’t admit to (also male pig pheremones, which is why female pigs are so good at earthing them out), they are the ultimate flavour bomb, making simple things taste amazing with the tiniest bit of work. A small chop, slice or grate will do you just fine, and they will elevate eggs, fried, scrambled or in an omelette, to one of the best dishes in the world. Buttered bread becomes something you might fight your mother for, anything simple with fat and richness (lard works great), with truffles enters a My Fair Lady sort of situation, adopting a smart accent, elegant umbrella and dress.
I love a truffle.
I have just returned from a Truffle & Wine Weekend at Crillon Le Brave, just over an hour from Marseille in Provence. Dotted with stone villages and in the shadow of the snow capped Mont Ventoux, Hotel Crillon Le Brave is itself an integral part of the village, composed of several houses within it. The hotel feels like a village within the village, it even has a church. Narrow stone alleys connect rooms and terraces overlooking the spectacular vista, the mistral whistles through but the sun still shines. Even though it was chilly, I managed to get a sun burned nose while eating lunch outside on Saturday.
Hotel Crillon le Brave
We started with a wine tasting with Montirius wines before dinner on Thursday evening. A sixth generation family winemaker, Montirius has been producing wine biodynamically for 18 years and produce vibrant elegant wines (which you can check out in Terroir in London too).
Wine tasting at Crillon Le Brave
We were to have dinner at the restaurant three evenings that week, two at Crillon Le Brave’s fine dining restaurant, Restaurant Jérôme Blanchet, and a truffle dinner there on our final evening too. There were truffles on the normal menu too, and I couldn’t resist. I can so see how those truffle hunters get hooked. The food is French, naturally, and both bold and delicate. Highlights for me were the superb sea bass carpaccio with espelette pepper, crisp snails and French caviar; the beef fillet with potato, leeks and black truffles; and the sublime – and lively – baked alaska with coconut and passion fruit coulis. The cheeseboard was tackled, as I have a spare stomach for cheese, especially when in France where it is looked after so well. The bread warrants special mention too (as do the pastries at breakfast).
Eating at Crillon Le Brave
Truffle hunting – how much do you love the gorgeous chocolate labrador, himself a retired truffle hunter!
Friday morning was all about truffle hunting with Eric and his truffle obsessed dog, Rambo. Not far from Crillon le Brave, we spent the morning learning about truffles through Eric’s very entertaining stories and anecdotes, while winding through the small green and white oaks, all the while following Rambo and trying to rein him in. He was wired to the moon. We found many and returned to enjoy them with a gorgeous rustic lunch along with some of Eric’s own wine. The scrambled eggs with black truffle (with eggs from the chickens outside) were just set and runny, so good. We also had a lovely pumpkin and truffle soup, a spelt pumpkin risotto, some ham on bread and a truffle creme brulee. Who knew?! Lovely.
Gorgeous rustic truffle lunch
On Saturday, for our next adventure we ventured to Châteauneuf-du-Pape to visit Domaine du Banneret. Another small family run winery which produces traditional method Châteauneuf-du-Pape wine from just 3 hectares of grapes producing approximately 13000 bottles per year. We tasted several vintages, from the bottle and the barrel, along with lovely homemade rillettes and some more lovely French bread.
Visiting Domaine du Banneret at Châteauneuf-du-Pape
I love French food but I was in need of something light. A small restaurant across the road from the hotel piqued my curiosity, I had no idea that a seafood producer visits occasionally and sells her local oysters for €1 each. What a treat! We also had a crab with aioli and 12 shrimp. The whole platter was €30 for two. Provence rosé had to be drank on the side. And maybe a little kir just to get us moving.
Seafood lunch with Provence Rosé
We returned to the hotel for a truffle cooking demo from head chef Jérôme who showed us two dishes, one, a French pasta cooked by absorption (coquillettes) with scallops and parmesan, and a scallop and truffle soufflé. Cooking pasta by absorption is something I do a lot, treating pasta as you would risotto rice results in lovely creamier textures, and it is speedy too. I do this a lot with leftover for 10 minute dinners, and will take you through one soon. The soufflé was lovely, and easy to recreate, a bechamel enriched with egg yolk, blended with scallops and then finished with lovely truffles before being baked in a bain marie. We got to eat some too, of course. Sommelier Benoit was on hand with some lovely crisp white wine that he had matched to the dishes.
Truffle Cooking Demo
Time for a snooze surely before an epic truffle dinner. I know, it is a very hard life I have. But seriously, the truffle dinner was a highlight, with scallop and truffle carpaccio, a hearty poultry ravioli wit mushroom and truffle, roast doe with soufflé potati and truffle and a divine Vacherin Mont D’Or with lambs lettuce and fresh sliced black truffle on top. (Full menu photographed below). I must mention Benoit again, all weekend I asked him to match wines, by the glass or a bottle to share, and he chose wonderful wines. The prices were very fair too. (Always tell a sommelier your budget, no matter what it is, and they will choose the best thing for you. It is one of my best dining out tips).
Breakfast deserves a mention, served in the bar or delivered to your room, exceptional pastries, omelettes and eggs benedict brightened our mornings. Silver pots of coffee helped rouse me from my slumber.
We finished with a trip to L’Isle-sur-la-Sorgue, famed for antiques and the Sunday market, but this deserves a post of its own, so for now, just some photos, to whet your appetite.
I travelled to Provence as a guest of Original Travel ( 020 3582 4990) who offer 3 nights at Crillon Le Brave from £740pp based on 2 people sharing a Standard Room (£830pp for a Deluxe Room), which includes truffle hunting, wine visit and tasting, truffle cooking demo, visit to antique’s capital I’Isle sur la Sorgue, return flights and private car transfers.