Truffles, Foie Gras and a Week of Decadence in Provence

Winter is on the horizon. Not to fear. This has a special meaning to me:

– a break from making cheese &

– a trip back to my home in Avignon.

While there, I’ll be offering a course on Truffle hunting, Preparing your own Duck Confit and Foie Gras, and Exploring the decadent joys of Châteauneuf-du-Pape wines and great Chocolates in my former (and on-going) role as a cooking teacher and culinary tour guide in Provence.

With chef Erick Vedel at my side to guide us through the varied preparations – think foie gras mi-cuit, smoked magret de canard, duck-fat fried potatoes, truffle risotto, truffle omelettes, and truffled home-made pasta…..,

One week of glorious winter foodie decadence in Provence,

January 24-January 31

Early morning truffle markets, Provençal language murmurring softly as the transactions flow from seller to buyer. Anywhere from 250Euros a kilo up to 800Euros a kilo depending on demand, quality and quantity. What will this season bring? Luckily for those who accompany me late winter is the best time for black truffles.

A little known fact is that Christmas and New Year’s are times when truffle prices are pushed way up for the festive holiday diners, but in fact, the truffles are rarely at their best. The knowledgeable gourmet awaits late winter, when the air is still chilly, but the sun is out, the ground a tad firm but not soaked with early spring rains. It is the moment the truffles come into their peak flavor, and often, the prices have lowered due to less demand.

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I can still take a few more people with me. Our favorite local B&B in Avignon, run by lovely Béatrice still has room as does my touring vehicle and kitchen. The Euro to US Dollar rate has been favorable to the Dollar this year, so I’ve been able to lower the price per person to: $2975 all inclusive, or a special 10% discount for 2 who travel together: $5355.

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So, come farce your fresh fowl with truffles. Take the grater, and the chunky truffle and shave as much as you like over your lightly poached eggs with still warm brioche on your plate. This is your time to indulge!

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We’ll join our master truffler as he heads through a grove of twisted black oak trees, following an eager and excited dog seeking out that elusive yet potent scent. A happy yelp, quick digging with his strong front paws, and out comes a black nugget of flavor. The potent aroma of the truffle invades the dirt surrounding it, and wafts up to you standing close by.

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To accompany our feasts and travails we’ll taste some of the great wines of the Southern Rhône, Châteauneuf-du-Pape, Gigondas, Vacquéyras… We’ll spend a morning at multiple wineries savoring a vertical tasting of these grenache heavy blends. Strawberry jam? Russian leather? smooth and fruity? spicy and dense? chewy tannins? a touch of barnyard? herby Garrigue notes? These and more may come to you as we swirl, sniff, and swoosh in our mouths. And as I’m driving, just enjoy. No need to spit.

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And to enliven conversation and share our feasts I’ll invite some of my favorite artisans to join us at the table.

Oh it’s going to be a wonderful and special week. And likely the last time for a good long while that I’ll be able to offer these tours. Once I start my next creamery, I’ll not be able to get back to Provence for more than a couple weeks here and there. So, if you’re tempted (and I hope you are!) this is the time to book your tickets (during the least expensive period of the year) and come !!! Looking forward to hearing from you: Winter Truffle Tour 2016

Fall 2009 – Day two making cheese

This is a reprinting of an earlier blog post I put on my first blog, An American in Avignon. I am going back to my roots, where and when and with whom I first learned to make goat cheese.

The milking part is pleasant, warm, clean and easy — or relatively so. Goats are clean and intelligent animals. From what I’ve seen of cow dairies, there is no comparison. To put it simply, tales of being shat upon, or filthy teats at a cow dairy are not exaggerations. Plus they are large and cumbersome animals, cows. Sheep, I’m told are not the brightest. Should your lands flood, goats will find the high land, climb a stair well or a tree, what-have-you. But sheep will simply baaaa and drown. So, here I am amidst a range of goats of different ages and races, and what a pleasure it is. They leap quickly into place for their feed and milking. They make room for you to put the jetter suction cups on their teats. No kicking, relatively minimal farting, and perfectly at ease with the handling and manipulation of our hands upon them. The milk flows quickly and smoothly — numerous hygienic measures are followed sensibly and not onerously — and a short hour later, we’ve milked all 36 and are ready to head to the dairy.

Before milking, the goats are given some fresh hay to start their rumens churning. Then they munch away on their grain while they are milked, and afterwards they head out to the pasture, or back to eat more hay in the manger. Salt & mineral licks are on the walls in the barn. We milk till the teats are softened and supple, but even then, if we hand-milked there would be more. So, you stop before they are completely milked out.

Today I helped flip and return to the molds the cheeses poured into their molds yesterday morning, and already flipped once yesterday evening. I didn’t maul them too badly, and after a hundred or so, the gesture began coming naturally. As with any repetitive gesture, be relaxed. Tension makes everything worse.

We then moved onto the tiny cheeses — much appreciated by restaurants and makers of toasted goat cheese salads. Again, we had a metal guide curd distributor for 90 molds. However, we had to place these 90 molds on the stainless draining tray before placing the guide on top. Getting the spacing right is a skill to hone, with in each instance a bit of fiddling and putting back in order required. With these guides, you can practically dump your curd on top and simple smooth it around into the molds. I tried to do it a bit more elegantly than this, but truly…

Then our clean up, prepping cheeses in paper for selling to Aurelie’s various clients, and back out the door. Tonight, we’ll turn the tiny little cheeses I filled today. As there are 580 or so, I should get some good practice with that flipping wrist action.

Meantime, Filou got a nasty little weed in his paw — what the locals call espégao, or folle avoine — resembling a tiny shaft of wheat. It is pointy and akin to an arrow, it wants to go in, further and further, and is terribly difficult to remove. He has had these twice in the past years in his ears, but this time it is between his toes. Shepherds are good people to bring sick dogs to. Aurelie helped me remove a bit of the points of this nasty thing, and to disinfect the wound. But, 24 hours later, he is still limping and the wound is weeping. The verdict is to keep disinfecting, and let the wound abscess to push out what is clearly still inside. If we’ve not accomplished this by tomorrow, I do have a veterinarian beside my home in Avignon and will see if he can help.

Mon brave chien accompanies me nearly everywhere, lying so calmly at my feet (or at the feet of the head of the household). He enjoys the goat barn and has made friends with the resident mama cat who’s a master huntress of rats, rabbits, mice and more. However, when I disappear into the dairy for an hour or more, he whines at the door, not accustomed to my abandoning him in this manner. Perhaps he’ll get accustomed to this just like his mistress?