Updated: Mar 1
(by Liv Woudstra)
The fact that my mother ended up with a truffle-hunting dog and I ended up in a truffle importing business should have been an easy prediction. When I was growing up in the south of France, my mom was something of a forager, often seeking out wild mushrooms on walks through the woods around our village near Avignon. Now she has a compelling reason: I sell what she finds.
There’s a bit of a misconception about the way French people eat, and about French women in particular, at least in my experience. It’s not about spending long hours at the stove making elaborate sauces, and it’s not about portion control or calories. My mother, Annie, is slim, but with a healthy appetite. We’re all big eaters in my family—it’s just that the emphasis always has been on the best products, fresh and local if possible, so that the food is deeply satisfying. An insipid loaf of bread would be turned into bird feed, but the crackle of the crust on a properly baked baguette is the musical score of my childhood.
My mom is now a vegetarian, but she was always passionate about organic food, long before it was popular and accessible in France’s “bio” markets—kind of a hippie, with a strong social conscience, supporting local farmers and protesting against big agriculture. We biked to a nearby farm for fresh milk, which was sometimes turned into one of my favorite desserts: île flottante, although I still wanted the supermarket cookies and candies that other kids had.
But as I followed her and her wicker basket around the markets of Provence, seeing how she chose the best melon by smell and weight (there’s actually a statue in tribute to the world-famous Cavaillon melon near my childhood home), or watching her fry just-picked zucchini flowers in grassy-green olive oil, I learned an appreciation for her standards. Although I love many things about living in New York City now, I miss the sense of terroir—the regional characteristics that create the fields and gardens of home, and the expectation I learned from my mom that a grape or a peach should burst with flavor. The other day my husband came home with vapid mandarins. “Did you even smell them?” I asked.
People always ended up in the kitchen in our Provencal home; it’s where I found my mom at the end of the day, where any important conversations took place. She was a high-school teacher with a long working day, so for me, 5 o’clock is the time for a sweet, and supper is at 9. The American penchant for early dinner has been an adjustment.
Now my mother searches for the world’s best black truffles in the back yards of her neighbors and countrymen. Her dog, a Lagotto Romagnolo named DeeDee, is the detective, identifying a good spot, and she is the rescuer, staking a claim to the valuable trophy before the hungry dog swallows it. She goes to truffle markets and meets the farmers to make sure the quality is good—similar to a trusted "nose" in the perfume industry, with expertise that is both innate and acquired by training.
Although she has an adventurous spirit and a curious mind—interested in many forms of music, many kind of experiences and cultures—my mom is afraid of flying. So she has not been to visit in my American home, and I will not get to see her this Christmas. But I will be making her brouillade à la truffe—soft scrambled eggs with truffles—on Christmas morning. The unique earthy smell will fill my kitchen, as it often fills hers, and we’ll be connected in sense memory.
Brouillade à la Truffe (Truffled Soft Scrambled Eggs)
12 - 14 eggs
3 – 4 oz. fresh black winter truffles (tuber melanosporum)
salt and pepper to taste
8 oz. crème fraîche
1 t. olive oil or butter
dash of grated garlic (optional)
Start by storing the eggs with the fresh truffles in a sealed jar two days before making the brouillade.
(One day is also okay, but the longer they sit, the stronger the taste.)
Two or three hours before cooking, wash and brush the truffles with cold water.
Grate or thinly shave half of the truffles. Set aside the other half.
Crack the eggs in a large bowl.
Break the yolks without whisking, and add half of the grated truffles.
Mix the eggs and truffles together, still without whisking.
Add salt and pepper to taste.
Mix remaining grated truffles with the crème fraîche.
Refrigerate both the egg mixture and the crème fraîche mixture for 2 to 3 hours.
Prepare a bain marie (water bath) by bringing a large pot of water to boil; keep it simmering over low heat.
In a medium-sized pot, melt the olive oil or butter and a dash of garlic on top of the simmering water (the pot should touch the water).
Add the egg mixture, and stir gently with a whisk just until the eggs are softly cooked, about 2 or 3 minutes.
Off the heat, stir in the crème fraîche mixture, then return to heat for one minute until warmed through.
Serve in small bowls with remaining truffles on top.