Meet the producers: Three generations of French truffles
'I’ve always lived here, always farmed here, and hope my two daughters will take over' says Christian Mérin of their truffle farm near Valréas
The Mérin family have been growing truffles for three generations on their farm near Valréas (approximately halfway between Valence and Orange in PACA). “I’m following in the footsteps of my grandfather and my father,” says Christian. “I’ve always lived here, always farmed here, and hope my two daughters will take over.”
He is proud of being able to stamp all his products ‘Authentique de Provence’ and is working towards the farm being certified organic, a process which takes three years.
“We produce everything here, even the olive oil and the lavender we use is grown here. The only thing we buy in is the brie.” As well as fresh truffles which he sells in local markets during the winter season, he makes carpaccio of truffles, truffle oil, truffle salt, brie with truffles, and lavender oil. He also packs truffles in jars.
He has his own greenhouses where he grows truffle-bearing trees, and he sells these too. “The nursery was started by my grandfather, and when I came home after studying in Italy as well as France, I expanded it.”
Selling truffles is seasonal in France, mainly because the general public strongly associates truffles with autumn and winter and therefore do not buy them in spring and summer. “I missed the end of the season last year because of the lockdown, so am hoping for a good season this year.”
Once the truffle markets close in March, he starts work in the woods, cultivating the trees. The truffle harvest takes place from October onwards, but requires experience. “You can’t just go around digging holes all over the place and damaging the roots,” he points out. “I have seven dogs which are trained to hunt for truffles, and I work with them. You can’t do it any other way.”
Christian’s dogs are crossbreed spaniel/ Labradors with a touch of setter thrown in, he says, to keep them lively. Using them, he harvests 2-300 kilos of black truffles a year from his land, which is approximately 38 acres.
“You have to harvest truffles according to the moon. Obviously you don’t harvest at night, but the best period is always the first quarter of the rising moon. That’s when you find the biggest and best truffles.”
You can buy Christian’s truffles from his online shop.