By TheOttawacker

Crossing truffles off my bucket list at St-P-3-Chx

During a conversation about a cluster of oak trees that had been planted in a stand to hopefully cultivate the growth of truffles, I casually mentioned to S that I had never had one. In all the years I had lived in France, not a single truffle – in any shape or form – had crossed my lips.

“Let’s see what we can do about that,” she said. “There is the annual truffle festival tomorrow in Saint-Paul-Trois-Châteaux.”

So today, in celebration of the fact that the sun had finally come out and the two days of solid rain had come to an end, we headed off to St-P-3-Chx (as it is written on the signposts) and went in search of truffles. Well!

First things first. What a spectacularly beautiful part of the world this is. Not in the Rockies-Venice-Rome style, but just because of what it is and how it is. Everything is perfectly proportioned. The buildings are generally well maintained (and, if not, they scream out in shabby-chic), the countryside is stunning (all plane trees and oaks, rocky outcrops and lavender, olive groves and vines). And every little town we went to – three in all – was clean and had given precedence to architecture and style. Shutters had been freshly painted, flower pots carefully positioned in windows, little touches of art had been placed on walls.

Of course, it helps that this part of the world didn’t have to suffer the relentless bombing of WWII; of course it does, and I wonder how much of Britain might be still around if it hadn’t had to endure it. But I also look back at events like the Reformation – the destruction of the monasteries, the whitewashing of church walls; the demolition of The Cavern and the ruining of the Pier Head in Liverpool; any new town anywhere in the UK; and indeed the whole of Ottawa – and wonder how much of a difference it actually made in the long run. Pointless philosophising, I suppose, but sue me.

Anyway, St-P-aux-3-Chx was a charming little place, at least its centre was. As we parked and walked up, you could hear a loud rumbling, getting louder as you approached the square. When you turned the corner, there was a throng of people, hundreds, all talking and eating, or talking and queuing up to eat, or talking or drinking. And everywhere there were truffles. And truffle hunters, all wearing the dark brown jacket and black hat to which they are due in the pursuit of their noble cause. We waited in line for some raviolis aux truffes for some 15-20 minutes, before realising that the queue really was not moving at all. So off we went and found a smaller stand run by the Restaurant La Chênaie, and dived into their excellent pintade, with risotto, garlic cream and, of course, generously topped by shavings of truffle (the Truffe melanosporum in case you were interested).

Well, it tasted like chicken. Either the guinea fowl was too strong a vehicle for it or it was a bad year for truffles. Or chef Freddy Trichet from the Restaurant La Chênaie isn’t very good. But the truffle tasted of nothing really, even when combined with the accompanying glass of white wine I had. The rest of the food was delicious – so I reckon Freddy Trichet from the Restaurant La Chênaie is very good; my conclusion, therefore, is that is a bad year for truffles (or my taste buds are screwed).

Having contemplated a second glass of wine and decided against it (mark the date in your diary), we went off for a quick wander of St-P-3-Chx, and fell upon the old cathedral, which dates from the 13th century. Quite impressive really – in a quiet way – but it always amazes me how a town like St-P-3-Chx, population 9,000 – including truffles, can have a cathedral, several names (for Trois-Châteaux, read Tricastin), AND a Maison de la truffe. Yes it does. And if you are looking for a holiday in the Drôme or want to know why 2024 has been a bad year for the truffle, you can book an evening with a truffle hunter (or a trufficulteur as the French insist on calling them) and find out. You’re welcome. It’s all included in the price.

Next we headed off to Grignan, arriving there at around 1.30. Grignan is mentioned in the letters that Madame de Sévigné wrote to her daughter, Madame de Grignan, who was at the French court. If you are into the letters of Madame de Sévigné, then this is the place for you. If not, still come, because it has a fantastic château (sadly closed until 2.30 and there was no way I was waiting), so again we went for a walk and oohed and ahed at all the appropriate places. Of course, the big pity was that Mrs Ottawacker (who loves this sort of stuff as much as me) and Ottawacker Jr couldn’t be here too – but he had a party to go to and someone had to drive him there. Unluckeeeee. (À propos de Ottawacker Jr. His elbow probably wasn’t dislocated, so he was given the all clear to play football – but to take it easy. The second part of that message didn’t get through to his 11-year-old brain, so he went full out all day long. He said he was fine that evening, so it looks like he’ll pull through).

Final stop was Taulignan: another nice place, although by this time France’s Sunday afternoon torpor had kicked in and the streets were deserted (with the exception of Amandine, a 92-year-old lady who was out walking with her husband – see extra). She was lovely, and walked ahead of me for a good while, waiting patiently for me to catch her up, every couple of minutes.

Back to Le Poët-Laval, where I did some more work, before finishing off the rabbit (it had marinated in the apple cider for an extra 2 days now and was delicious) and then watched The Dig on Netflix, a film I liked very much, and not just because Carey Mulligan was in it.

Another great day.

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