Rare and expensive, the truffle, also known as the black diamond, has a powerful taste that has very few matches on the plate. Whether long or short-grain, rice is a faithful companion to pair with this powerful diamond. As luck would have it the Camargue region is the main place of production in France. Labelled “Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée” (AOC), the rice from Camargue works well in numerous recipes.
A successful blend!
It is difficult to lift the veil on all the mysteries surrounding the truffle, which today is harvested primarily in the Vaucluse region. A jewel of French gastronomy and a luxury product, the black diamond or « rabasse », its Provençal name, is found hiding primarily on the slopes of Mont-Ventoux or in Luberon, however it also can be found in the Var region and on the Valensole plateau, in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence.
Its harvesting, or « cavage » (French term for digging for truffles), done by foragers or « rabassiers », is highly original. A dog or even a pig is used to sniff out this savoury mushroom. Gathered from October 15 to March 15, the « rabasses » are kept for several days in a cool area between 0 and 4°C. It’s in Carpentras that the annual price of this tuber is set each year at Christmas. Its average price can run more than 1,500 euros a kilo. In Aups, Richerenches and Carpentras, during the markets and fairs, cannery representatives and chefs from major restaurants mingle around the rabasses. The transactions take place in the market or away from it, at the farms of the harvesters.
Rice and salt are inseparable from Camargue, this marshy region unique to Provence. One could not go without the other in a region that for a long time was threatened by the devastating floods of the Rhône River. The history of rice cultivation started in 1830 with the building of levees in the region.
The main goal was to desalt the soil so that other cultivation efforts, such a grape growing, could succeed. That led to the nearly absolute disappearance of rice around the 30s when viticulture was heavily favoured. However, rice cultivation quickly re-established itself due to the lack of foodstuffs during the war.
At the same time, the fortunes of long-grain rice from Camargue today have risen at the expense of short-grain rice that dominated the Camargue region up until then.
Today long-grain rice is widely sold, while shortgrain rice, wild and red rice are still cultivated in Camargue.
An influential economic player, rice is a major asset in the effort to preserve the ecosystem. A centuries-old activity, salt farming dates back to the earliest times. Provençal salt at that time was farmed in Camargue on the Berre lagoon and in Hyères. Normally gathered for food purposes, the salt farmed in the salt flats of Giraud is today mainly used for industrial ends or snow removal.
CAMARGUE RICE WITH TRUFFLES
- 250 g Camargue rice
- 2 shallots 60 g butter
- 10 cl white wine – cube stock
- 30 g fresh black truffles
- 2 tablespoon crème fraîche, salt, pepper
Boil 1 litre of water and dilute the cube stock in it. Keep the stock hot. Peel and mince the shallots. Melt the butter in a large sauce pan. Add the shallots and stir them for a few minutes until they become translucent. Add the Camargue rice and stir well until the shallots and rice are completely mixed. Soak with the white wine until the alcohol is completely absorbed. Pour a ladlefull of stock on the rice and stir slowly with a wooden spoon until the liquid is completely absorbed. Repeat this step until the litre of stock has been absorbed. Carefully brush the truffles, but do not wash them, and cut them up thinly. Add them to the rice. Add the crème fraîche. Add salt and pepper. Stir delicately until all the aromas mix together. Place the rice in 4 glass verrine dishes.
EVERYTHING YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT BLACK TRUFFLES AND CAMARGUE RICE
HOUSE OF TRUFFLES AND WINE – MéNERBES
Set in a 17th century town house that has been wonderfully restore, the House of Truffles and Wine is a fun, informative space as well as a training site for professionals and enthusiasts. Truffle caving workshops, followed by a truffle-based meal are scheduled from November to March. A wine bar offers dining options in the summer garden.
Maison de la Truffe er du vin – Place de L’Horloge – 84560 MENERBES
THE RICE MUSEUM – ARLES
In the heart of the Camargue, ideally located in the middle of the rice fields, the rice museum is a place stamped with history. Robert Bon is happy to welcome you and tell you the history of rice. You’ll see original machines, scale models displaying rice cultivation, the profession of the rice miller, and the flora and fauna of Camargue. The visit ends with a tasting of organic and natural products. Before leaving, take a few moments to walk around the museum’s shop.
Musée du Riz – Rizière du Petit Manusclat – 13200 ARLES