It is a mystery equal to the Tuber melanosporum itself why I received the Medaille d'Honneur from the Confrerie du Diamant Noir et de la Gastronomie (The Brotherhood of the Black Diamond and Gastronomy), or why I was invited to join Confrerie de la Truffe et du Vin du Luberon (the brotherhood of the truffle and wine of the Luberon). But during the Petit Marche aux Truffe de Menerbes, which happens each year on the first Sunday after Christmas, I was inducted into the order, grade of “Chevalier” and pledged an oath to uphold the truffle and defend it against usurpers. Apparently the Spanish and Chinese are invading the market, as a recent article in the New York Times attests.
France accounts for some 45% of the world's production of black truffles, Spain for 35%, and Italy for 20%. Smaller amounts are produced worldwide, though the Confrererie would argue that these are not the real thing, just as champagne from another region cannot be called “Champagne.” The Vaucluse, where the Dora Maar House is located, is the largest-producing true truffle region.
At $1,000 a kilo, they are indeed black diamonds, and the secrets around where they can be found are jealously kept. Polite people don’t talk about it, in the same way I remember when I had very young twins, other parents of multiples would not tell me the name of their babysitter lest I would steal them. So I have had to be content to be invited to dinners where the host had “found” a fresh truffle that morning. After the ceremony at the marché would be another lucky occasion when I was invited to a veritable feast of truffles—culminating with a memorable poached apple in a caramel truffle sauce.
As a newly anointed knight I swear the truffle is really something special. Brillat-Savarin (1755–1826), the French gourmet writer who may have coined the phrase “the black diamond of gastronomy,” wrote: “Whoever says truffle, pronounces a great word, which awakens erotic and gourmand ideas both in the sex dressed in petticoats and in the bearded portion of humanity.” (And here let me just say a word about the formal dress code of the Order of the Black Diamonds—they get to wear a large black cape lined with gray recalling the color of the truffle, a black felt hat, and a pewter medal worn around the neck on a gold ribbon lined with black. How cool is that?)
So with mystified pride I happily pledged:
O! truffle Tuber melanosporum and wine of the Luberon, I pay homage to your virtues and promise to serve you in all times and places with my words, my writings and my acts. To help others discover and love your incomparable benefits, the better known ones and the most secret.