le 22 janvier 2001
annual truffle market
La journée des Truffes
A bright sunny Sunday brought visitors by the thousands to the Place aux
Herbes in Uzès for the 8th annual Truffle Festival. This
festival is one of the biggest in the region, and was featured on the
national news over this past weekend. What goes on at a Truffle Festival?
dozens of stands set up where individual cultivators were selling their
wares, those black mushroom-ish truffles that are so prized and so
expensive – averaging 400 francs per 100 grams, or $20 per ounce! The
tables were piled high with little black nodules, and the air in the plaza
was filled with the pungent smell of truffles. In a truffle-hunting
pen, set up complete with small trees for animal demonstrations, wily dogs
and pigs came out to show the crowd their talents, snuffling here, there
and everywhere, and coming up with the goods! Applause all around for
often called black diamonds, have been prized since the days of the
Egyptians, but despite hundreds of years of research and observation, the
mysteries and caprices of these tubers melanospora continue to
confound cultivators and gourmands alike. More than 70% of the truffles
from France come from the Southwestern region, which has the soil, the
climate and the flora that make for successful truffle cultivation.
You can lead a pig to
The truffle man explains his
the afternoon, we settled in front of a stand under one of the darker
archways, and began our negotiations for the truffle that would grace our
Sunday supper omelette. The seller asked when we would be eating the
truffle, and when we indicated that very evening, he turned away from his
pile of black diamonds, pulled out a handkerchief, unfolded it, and showed
us his very “special” truffles, those that were most “ripe.” As he
cut into one of them and checked its smell, several other customers pushed
up with us to sample the goods. We all leaned in to take a whiff, and
rewarded the proper funky scent with all sorts of oohs and aahs. The
truffle became ours, a 60 franc investment that was later brushed,
cleaned, then shaved into the eggs. The truffle is no longer, but the
taste remains…and will for several days. But we wonder about the
handkerchief trick…did he do that for every new customer that came up?
Doesn’t matter, because we “did” the 2001 truffle festival and got
the whole show!
For more truffle market photos...
This is NOT a truffle dog...
*Happy Birthday to: Maura, Kathy, Dan,
Sandy, Cansie, Eccie, Suzanne, David, Kevin, Lisa, Sarah, Laurie, Renata, Elvis,
Wolfgang, Karen & Joe
the good times roll!
Laissez le bon temps rouler!
As part of our general celebration of so many January birthdays*
and in anticipation of upcoming Carnavale and Mardi Gras, we gathered a
small group together to dine à la créole on rue St.-Théodorit here in
Uzès. The event occurred at the same time as the inauguration of our
newest Bubba, so we added a bit of Texas to the mix (special thanks to
Dianne in Austin), et voilà!
Chef Joseph, with his trusty sous chef Karen,
presented the dinner; Greta, a schoolmate from Germany, provided hors
d’oeuvres, and the other guests presented champagne and a fabulous
chocolate cake. Marvin Gaye, the Temptations, Louis Armstrong, and more
provided the music for us. In honor of the chef, we decided to serve an appropriate Côtes du Rhône, a
Saint-Joseph from the northernmost reaches of the Rhone Valley. Délicieux...
Although only the Americans (3 of
us) were familiar with the New Orleans motto, laissez le bon temps
rouler, the rest of the group had no trouble making the connection,
and so the good times did roll. Oui, le bon temps roulait! For
photos of the event in the gallery, click here.
to Lyon via Saint-Joseph
Une petite excursion via les vignobles de Saint-Joseph
We set out on a little road trip recently (direction: Lyon,
France's other "second" city) and decided, on our way there,
to check out the northern Côtes du Rhône wine region. We snaked our way up the Rhône valley,
and wandered around in the area of the town
of Tain l’Hermitage, home to the justly famous vineyards
producing the luscious cru, Hermitage. Judging from the huge
billboards atop the hillside vineyards identifying the growers or négociants
of this lovely wine, we wouldn’t recommend being there in August or
September! But we had a specific purpose in mind, so we crossed the Rhône
at Tain l’Hermitage, heading east to west.
North on the N-86 to Sarras, and we’d found our region.
13 estimable cru wines of the Côtes du Rhône, none has
been more surprisingly delicious to us than the wonderful red wine of
Saint-Joseph. After having received a few bottles as a Christmas gift, we
decided that we should visit that region, and so stopped in the little river town of Saint-Désirat at
the appropriately-named Cave de Saint-Désirat, producers of all that is
wonderful in Saint-Joseph wines. We tasted an admirable white wine of
their production, but it was a couple of their reds we really wanted a
crack at. While we were tasting the 1997 red Côte Diane, we noticed it had
recently received a citation from Hachette’s Guide to French Wine as an
outstanding product. And it was: fruity,
smooth, a lovely thing. The young woman behind the tasting bar told us
that the wine was made from quite young vines, and it tasted so: lovely, but…"Can we try the other?" “Bien
The 1998 red Cuvée des Mariniers, produced from vines nearly 50 years
old, won a gold medal in Macon (Burgundy
country, no less) this past year and it is well-deserved. We bought six bottles at about eight dollars each.
We had a small test in mind: We were to host a small dinner party of about
a dozen, most of them French. We’d see what they
had to say about it. Result?
Home run. Délicieux, they said, wonderful wine. We agree!
But we were headed for Lyon, and so continued to travel further north another hour, stopping for a quick
the Roman and medieval ruins in Vienne.
The steep vineyards along the
northern slopes of the Rhone valley, home to Saint-Joseph wine
Louis XIV still reigns as a
statue in the
Place Bellecoeur in the heart of Lyon ... notice the replica of the Tour
Eiffel along the skyline in the background
By early evening we were in
Lyon, ready for our gastronomic day-and-a-half extravaganza. An evening at the grand
table Léon de Lyon, in the heart of the city, was wonderful (and 8
courses, of course...we had to walk/crawl back to the hotel). But the best surprise was the beauty and grace of
Lyon itself, situated at the junction of the Rhône and Saône rivers, with an old medieval quarter,
beautifully laid out streets and squares, and plenty of good shopping and
A French writer once said: “I have
found the Paris of the 1930s. It is in Lyon.” Amen...
The Tourelle Rose (pink tower) in
championship horse race? Right here in Uzes? Yes,but…
Une course championnat? Ici a Uzès? Oui, mais...
When we moved to Uzès we knew there was a regional
branch of le Haras National here on the outskirts of town. Le
Haras National, which translates as “the National Stud,” is an
organization charged with improving the breeding of France’s equine
population. The really big show is le Haras National at
Chantilly, where thoroughbreds are the focus. Here in Provence the work
centers largely on pleasure animals and working beasts. We found out one recent early winter weekend that the local Haras
was hosting the finals of the French National Championships…for
long-distance riding horses. No chance for a bet we realized, one of us
nearly paralyzed with sobs. Nonetheless, on a cold, sparkling Sunday, we
showed up to see what was going on. There were actually three
championships: one for
four-year-olds at 40 kilometers (27 miles), one for five-year-olds at 60
kilometers (40 miles), and the feature race, the French Breeders’ Cup
equivalent, six-year-olds at 90 kilometers, or 60 miles.
This is definitely not the most exciting two minutes in sport. Each
horse starts out individually, followed a few minutes later by the next
competitor. Time decides it all, not a multi-horse sprint to the finish
line. The horses are mostly Arabians or something called “the French
pleasure horse,” or mixtures thereof, precisely identified by
percentage. The courses wind all around the neighboring towns. The winning
time in the feature was something just over six hours. Veterinarians
examine each animal at various checkpoints and “scratch” any horse
whose heart-rate or blood pressure is too high.
In spite of the lack of flash finish, this was really a good show.
Competitors were truly in to it. Judges and officials of the Haras
National were suitably officious. The shaggy-coated horses
were…well, they ain’t thoroughbreds, but they’re try-ers.
So we went to a French national championship horse race right here
in Uzès. Had a fine time. Lost nary a sou on the outcome, a
refreshing experience. And just to cover that gap in information, the
result you didn’t get from your American Daily Racing Form, the
winner of the feature event was Burzet du Moulon, a six-year-old
Arabian horse ridden by Gaëtan Calvier, owned by the same individual.
And, yes, he’s for sale!
Lots of prep for the start and