Marché aux Truffes

The project ‘Talairan : Le Marché aux Truffes’ was a Christmas holiday project I undertook as part of the Photojournalism course, taught by Rafa Badia, which was one of the three professional courses that formed the finals year of the diploma in photography at Grisart Escola Internacional de Fotografia in Barcelona. The pre-Christmas truffle market at Talairan is an annual event drawing large crowds of people to participate in the auction of examples of the local truffle crop. The main truffle produced is the tuber-mélanosporum, also called the black truffle, which is more commonly thought of as a crop from the Perigord or from Provence, but it has always grown in the Languedoc. The reason the department de l’Aude doesn’t come immediately to mind when people think of truffle production, is that unlike the people from other truffle areas, the people of the Languedoc have not traditionally been truffle eaters. They gathered their truffles to sell on the open market, keeping a few to flavour their pork patés or, for Christmas and New Year, their ‘saucisses truffées’. Over the last three decades, truffle production has been steadily rising to the point where there are now several ‘truffle villages’ in the Aude department with several  truffle markets during the year.

Taking part in the truffle market is serious business for the producers whose participation in the event is strictly controlled. These are the rules:
Only registered producers may participate in the truffle auction; they have to announce their participation by at least the evening prior to the day of the truffle market, they can’t just ‘turn up’; only the true ‘tuber mélanosporum’ (black truffle) may be sold at the market; truffles presented for sale have to be inspected before being placed for sale (this is done by the truffle inspector you can see in some of the photographs below) after which they must be washed by hand and carefully brushed. It is forbidden to fill holes on the tubers made by insects or other animals, or to paste over the holes or to stick damaged bits back onto the truffle. It is forbidden to put frozen truffles on sale at the auction. Truffles must be healthy and fresh (no worms, not turning to wood, and not frozen). Truffles weighing les than 5 grammes will not be permitted for sale. Sellers must use a set of approved scales set to within one gramme of true, ready for inspection. Any scales not on the approved list or not to the set standard upon inspection, are forbidden by law. Truffles are to be sold in plastic bags produced specially for food preparation. The vendor is responsible for presenting his or her truffles before buyers. Plastic bags, any contents plus truffles must be visible before sale on the counters which will be put in place by the organising public authority. In case of any doubt, the Assocation of Truffle Producers of the Aude reserves the right to take samples for analysis and to refuse to allow a sale to proceed.

The December truffle market is an opportunity for other local producers to sell their wares, for friends to meet and for families to make purchases in time for Christmas. The  photographs below show these things taking place in the build up to the opening of the truffle auction by the sounding of a horn. This is followed by a stampeed of people to the tables where the truffle producters are selling their ‘black diamonds’. I must say that it was all very exciting!