It is the second of March as I write and yesterday I finally put a monster to bed. I haven’t really thought about much other than this book for weeks, but in the middle of last month there was a little pause when I went on my usual February jaunt to the Domaine des Anges in Provence.
It is, as always, truffle season and I was getting good reports for the melanosporum, the local black winter truffles. Provence, rather than Périgord, is the source for sixty percent of these. My friend in the local village of Mormoiron, Bob Huddie, reported having eaten good things in January and February, but just before I left on 14 February, the weather warmed up and it began to rain. The last truffles of the season were consequently small (not much bigger than a cherry) and not as perfumèd as they might have been. They also shot up in price from €600 a kilo to nearer €800 locally, that means they would have sold for three-times that sum in Paris.
You win some, you lose some, I thought as I arrived in Marseille in the early afternoon on Friday to be greeted by brilliant sunshine and temperatures of around 15 Celsius. Apart from an occasional downpour and a light frost one morning, the weather stayed sunny and warm. On the way to the Domaine we stopped at the butcher in Mazan to buy some braising beef. Bob arrived later with a jar containing some rice and a dozen or so small truffles for our first course. He had obtained them from his cleaner, who had dug them up in her garden. Her soils were sandy. Up on the hill where we were, the land contains too much chalk to be good for truffles.
Despite their modest size, they were better than I expected. Bob wanted some served on crostini while the rest were committed to a brouillade de truffes, sometimes called an omelette aux truffes, which is essentially scrambled eggs, without milk, cooked in a bain-marie with a little cream and lots of butter. The truffles are then mixed in at the last minute or simply shaved over the top. The idea is that they should not get too hot, as that might dissipate the aromas. I think everyone was more than happy, as they were with the beef, which was not only excellent with the Domaine des Anges Archange, but also with Bob’s magnum of Château Cantemerle 2006.
The padrone, Gay McGuinness, was actually in seventh heaven, not so much as a result of the food, but because the powerful American critic, Robert Parker had finally pronounced on his wines, awarding 90 points to two of them and giving more than decent scores to the others.
The next morning we went in to the market in the lovely town of Pernes. It was very depleted. It was the beginning of half-term and the Parisians had yet to arrive. We stopped at my favourite baker with his hundred-year old oven and bought a vast miche or sourdough loaf. On Saturday afternoon we planned to visit a neighbouring estate, Domaine Vintur, which lies on the road between Carpentras and Malaucène. It is run by the Yorkshireman James Wood, who has wonderfully precise ideas about the sort of wine he wants to make and the way he wants his vineyard to look. We did an extensive tasting and I was extremely impressed by his whites. He inherited the 2011 reds from the previous owner as they were already in the vats when his boss bought the estate. They were good too, but I expect the 2012 and 2013 to be even better.
Winter is slow-cooking time, and we had a slab of belly pork to roast that night, which I had scored deeply to make some good crackling and put a lot of spice in the white wine it sat in as it slowly melted in the oven. The joy of cooking on a wine estate is that there is always plenty of material for marinades and braising, not least in the open bottles left over from the last night’s dinner. We still had two or three of Bob’s truffles and made some oeufs en cocotte with those.
Gay had had a visit from a lady that afternoon who had been restoring a portrait for him. She asked me if we wanted any wild boar, as her freezer was full of it. Her friend in Bédouin, she said, had been trying to rid Mont Ventoux of wild boars over the previous few weeks and had enjoyed a moderate success. I naturally said yes, and asked her if she knew of anyone who had truffles? When we got back that evening the boar and the truffles were there. The woman said that the truffles had been frozen, and I should put them back in the freezer if I was going to take them home. As for the boar, I left it in its blood and emptied a couple of bottles of Domaine des Anges over it and let it fester.
We motored up to Malaucène on Sunday, a larger and livelier town than Mazan with a huge hall-church at the centre. There were even a few people on the streets and stray dogs milling around – a rare vision in Provence in February. I made the usual Irish stew, starting it well before we went out. James Wood arrived for dinner bearing gifts: wine, eggs and more truffles, that he had obtained from a contact in a local bar. Again they were small, and lightly perfumed, but they made a lovely brouillade that was just what we needed before a steaming dish of Irish stew.
Monday was relaxed. We went to the splendid market in Bédouin for a vacherin Mont d’Or for that evening, then Dave Gargan and I went into Carpentras as I had ordered a book for my boy. To my horror I saw the bookshop was closed, but there was a light burning inside and a man moving around. I pleaded with him through the grille, and eventually he agreed to sell me my book. A good omen I thought. We spent a happy few hours in the Irish pub in Mazan celebrating while the lady behind the bar gave me tips on how to cook my boar.
The boar had been in blood, wine, and a little port for two days now. I sat in the feeble winter sun, filched it out of its marinade and cut it into manageable pieces. After browning it and setting it to cook it in its juices for a good three hours I went for a short sieste.
When I woke I was shivering. I think I must have caught a chill cutting up the boar. I am sorry to say that I missed a trick as a result, for I should have put our few remaining truffles into the mashed potatoes. As it was, I had very little appetite, but I noted that the boar was beautifully tender, and the marinade, reduced by a good half, was turned into a good, rich, black sauce.
And, after that short truffle break, I returned to London and the monster.
Originally posted by Giles MacDonough on http://www.macdonogh.co.uk/wineandfooddiary.htm
3rd March 2014