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Aujourd'hui nous sommes le samedi 16 novembre 2019. C'est la fête de Sainte Marguerite


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Anabel Langbein en France

 

My wonderful friend Daniele Delpeuch lives on her old family trufferie close to the little village of Chavagnac near Brive la Gaillarde, in the heart of French truffle country. After the hustle of the Frankfurt Book Fair, an escape down to her farm for a spot of summer truffle hunting was just the recharge I needed.

With Paris-based Kiwi friend Georgina in tow, we managed to catch the 9.06am train from Austerlitz station to Brive la Gaillard. Such an early start was no mean feat after a revelrous weekend!

There's no fast train in this direction, but it’s an easy enough trip, down to the South West through the countryside of France, and we arrived in Brive just before 1.30pm. The day was a clear blue-skied 28 degrees Celsius, much hotter than I had imagined for late October. Daniele was waiting for us at the station and hoped we were not too tired for the itinerary she had planned for our afternoon.

Daniele’s house, which is about a 20-minute drive from Brive, has been in the family for at least 600 years – at least that’s as far back as the records go. For hundreds of years her family have been growing truffles here. In the attic there are old family documents, which show the truffles provided for the court of King Louie XIV came from the farm here. Daniele herself is one of France's culinary legends, having been the only woman in French history to cook for the president, working for several years as President Mitterrand’s personal cook.

For lunch Daniele had specially bought 'les tielle', a famous specialty from Sete. These little octopus pies are divine. The general gist is to cook the cleaned octopus in concentrated fish broth, then peel it, cut into small pieces and cook with onion, poivron, garlic, saffron, tomatoes and spiaule spice (used in languedoc) until it forms a thick, soft ragout. Make a pate brisee with yeast and egg-pate a pate (foucer). Roll out the pastry, fill with the cooked octopus ragout, and bake. They are divine, and if anyone out there has a real recipe for them I'd love to learn how to make them properly!

The French like their salads really simple, and I could see Daniele shaking her head in disapproval as I expounded the virtues of my latest creation made over the weekend in Paris. Inspired by the market on the Avenue de Breteuil just under Georgie and Andre’s apartment, it was a simple toss of baby spinach and rocket, crispy bacon, pomegranate seeds, radishes, black figs and a lemony mustard vinaigrette, and really quite fabulous.

She reminded me that "a salad just needs to be simple, you don’t want to put too much in it", carefully slicing crisp leaves of buttercup lettuce in half and tossing them with some mache (lambs lettuce) and a little oil and vinegar. Basta, that's it. Served with a tray of sweet, meltingly soft rocamadour cheeses (I ate three), crusty bread and some fresh, tender pears, it offered the perfect balance of tastes and textures, washed down with a delicious glass of rose.

Our mission after lunch was to hunt for summer truffles, and so we headed down the road to the property of Daniele's cousin Jacques and his wife Marie Claude. With Jacques' little dog leading the way we headed into the oak forest. Every now and then this courteous little Bichon Frise would politely scratch the ground, Jacques would get out his little truffle tool, and presto – a fragrant truffle. In the space of 20 minutes we found six fragrant summer truffles, which Jacques kindly gave to us to cook for dinner.

On returning to La Borderie, Daniele took the truffles and gave them a little soak in warm water, scrubbing off the dirt gently with a vegetable brush. They were placed in a preserving jar with six fresh eggs, still in the shell, and the jar sealed tightly with a preserving lid. Rekindling the fire with a few logs, she proceeded to gather the bits and pieces for our dinner: some chives and salad greens from the garden, a jar of pate and some wine from the cellar, and a pottle of creme fraiche from the fridge.

Shovelling embers from the fire, she took a worn three-legged cast-iron cocotte – just a hand’s-width wide and two finger joints deep, that belonged to her grandmother, and placed it over the embers. In went the creme fraiche and then the thinly sliced truffles. Opening the jar of truffles filled the kitchen with an astonishing rich and alluring aroma – such is the stuff of truffles.

Summer truffles may not be as fragrant as the famous winter tuber melansporum, but they are very good, with a dense dark brown body and crisp firm texture. The truffles and creme fraiche bubbled gently for a couple of minutes, then Daniele added a small handful of chopped chives. (It's only white truffles that you don't ever cook; other truffles need heat to fully release their aroma.) The eggs, which had been locked up with the truffles, were now poached in a little water with a splash of vinegar. The dish was served – oeufs en muerette – a poached egg topped with this creamy, heady, warm truffle sauce. Its appearance was deceptively simple; the taste was divine.

Daniele's famous pate came next – a little ground pork, a fat slab of foie gras, a little more pork mince, salt and pepper, sealed and cooked for three hours. Now, four years later, we opened it and, ohhh laa, it was delicious! And then a salad – again, simple buttercrunch and mache with a light, mustardy vinaigrette.

We drank two bottles of wonderful red wine – Fleurie is Daniele's favourite, a wine from the region north of Beaujolais, south of Burgundy.

For dessert, Maire Claude had made a very traditional family dessert – a dessert de grand mere – le boer (after the Boer war). It's like isle flotante (floating islands), but into the whipped meringue you whisk a very hot caramel. The mixture is spread into an oiled dish and then to serve, tipped out onto plate and served with chilled custard. Then, Jacques brought out a bottle of Grand Cru Chateau Myrat 2001.

I felt like I’d died and gone to heaven.