Richerenches—I came to this walled Provençal village for the highlight of the season: the Truffle Mass. The epicenter of an area rich in oak trees (the trees’ roots being the fungus’s obscure home), Richerenches has become Europe’s largest market for black winter truffles, or Tuber melanosporum. And on the third weekend in January, a mass is held in their honor.
At the Saturday market I made my way past farmers bundled up against the cold, clutching their plastic bags full of “black diamonds.” They circulated furtively, chatting in little groups. After an hour, the action started. Dealers pulled out scales to weigh the truffles. I watched wads of crisp notes change hands. And I witnessed one farmer walk away a good deal richer: At 600 euros a kilo (roughly $400 a pound), his 20 kilos had brought him a windfall.
The next morning the Brotherhood of the Black Diamond led a procession to the 12th-century parish church. There the fungi were blessed and prayers were offered for a successful harvest. At the collection, offertory baskets were filled with truffles, which were auctioned off after the service by the Chamberlain of the Brotherhood. The day culminated with a lunch organized by the mayor—where the main dish was, of course, magnificent: omelette aux truffes.The truffle market is not for amateurs; instead head to Plantin (plantin.com), France’s leading truffle supplier, in nearby Puyméras. The best hotel in the region is Le Beffroi ($125–$240; le-beffroi.com), in neighboring Vaison-la-Romaine, where author Patricia Wells teaches cooking classes. Following the mass, Wells is offering a truffle workshop January 25–29, 2010 (course, $5,500; patriciawells.com).