In the small village of Aups in the Var department, the truffle is a big topic all year round. After all, there is the Maison de la Truffe here, which tells vacationers all about the precious mushroom even in midsummer. The museum guides its visitors interactively through the history, breeding and harvesting of truffles. The best time for a culinary truffle trip begins in December. The winter truffle is sold in Provence from December and celebrated with festivals in February. During this time, upscale restaurants in the Var department always have one or more truffle dishes on the menu. It is shaved and grated until the food almost disappears under a dark cloud of paper-thin truffle slices. Alexandre Dimitch chef at the Saint Marc restaurant in Aups and Cyril Aveline, chef at the Hestia restaurant in Bormes-les-Mimosas showed us how the winter truffle is celebrated culinary in France.
In early December, Aups will host the opening of a very special type of market. From the opening day on a Thursday morning until March, the truffle market then takes place in the small marketplace of Aups. Before the traders of the region can offer their goods, the Truffle Syndicate sets the current price per kilo week by week. The representatives of the syndicate, led by Philippe de Santos, check the quality of the goods and the origin of the black truffles. The Aups truffle market is one of only three markets in the whole of France where truffles are sold directly to end consumers. On this cold and windy December morning, truffles are not only a topic for top chefs in France, but also for private individuals.
The truffle market in Aups is organized. The price per kilo is set every week. All traders at the market adhere to this price. However, they differ in the form of presentation. Some sell their rather small quantities directly out of their trunks, others have set up a small folding table and provided kitchen scales. One dealer even has a professional stand in elegant black and offers particularly splendid specimens in wooden boxes. The majority of dealers, however, take a very unpretentious approach to the sale of this luxury commodity. The freshly harvested winter truffles lie in baskets, are weighed on kitchen scales and then handed over to buyers in thin plastic bags.
From puristic to opulent – variations with winter truffle
From December on, it is impossible to imagine the menus of restaurants in Var without the winter truffle. The main business takes place at lunch time. Alexandre Dimitch’s restaurant is filled to capacity. On the menu are three dishes with fresh winter truffles. Alexandre also went shopping that morning at the first truffle market of the season right outside his front door. He took a good kilo of truffles with him. It will probably run out before the weekend. The desire for truffles is great and almost every order contains at least one truffle dish.
Scallop meat combined with black truffle is a very popular duo. The scallops are finely chopped and the flavors of all the other ingredients emphasize the mineral freshness of the scallops while giving enough room for the delicate truffle flavor.
The other dishes on the menu at Saint Marc tie the truffle into far more components. Alexandre Dimitch combines leek vegetables with Jerusalem artichoke cream, places scallop in lardo coat on top, dressed with a fine thread of olive oil and a lush carpet of freshly shaved truffle as topping.
Truffle consumption increases from dish to dish. For the ravioli, Alexandre Dimitch uses truffles in both the filling and the topping. The handmade ravioli is filled with beef, plus garlic, parsley and foie gras. The ravioli is cooked in beef broth for four minutes.
Bormes-les-Mimosas and Hestia – Goddess of the hearth fire
The Var department is versatile and is one of the most popular vacation destinations in France after Paris. While the hinterland is known for its forests and lakes and the Verdon Gorge is a popular hiking area, many people are drawn to the Cote d’Azur. From Aups it is just 90 kilometers to the blue coast. Bormes-les-Mimosas is a town with two faces. Situated in the hills is the old town center and on the coast a large marina. In winter everything stands still here. The children’s carousel is mothballed, a swing squeaks in the gusty wind. The streets are lined with small restaurants, bars and brasseries. Not one is open. We had our doubts about finding a newly opened restaurant here. But then we found one. Between the new buildings on the harbor basin is the restaurant Hestia by Sakina Salhi and Cyril Aveline.
The couple lived in Paris for many years and, in the midst of the pandemic, ventured out of the big city and into self-employment. In January 2021, they looked at the space and opened their first own restaurant, Hestia, in August 2021. Their concept follows clear principles. They source their vegetables from permacultures in Carnoules not 40 kilometers away. Only bread made from natural sourdough from a small bakery in the neighboring village is served, there is fish from sustainable fisheries in the Mediterranean, and instead of bottled mineral water, Hestia serves microfiltered water from a dispenser. Hestia is the goddess of hearth fire in Greek mythology. The name is apt, as the small open kitchen at the entrance is dominated by a massive Josper grill.
Looking out the window, the imposing yachts wave their bows up and down. Residents have enthusiastically embraced the new restaurant in its first summer. Sakina Salhi and Cyril Aveline are experienced restaurateurs. After many years in the big city of Paris, where there is never a break, they have deliberately embarked on a restaurant with a high and low season. In 2011, Cyril Aveline won the Best Bistro in Paris award for his Les Bistronomes in Paris in its very first year. Sakina Salhi worked for many years as a sommelière at Restaurant Vantre, which holds a recommendation from the Michelin Guide.
During the quiet winter season, dishes with truffles are also available at Hestia. The popular scallop is gratinated with a crust of walnut and truffle by Cyril Aveline. A main course with truffle is his partridge pithiviers with veal, partridge fillet, foie gras and truffles. A vegetarian alternative with truffles at Hestia is a truffle sandwich. It is inspired by French 2-star chef Michel Rostang, who topped country bread with truffle butter and truffle slices for this purpose and then let the truffle aroma soak in for four days. Just before serving, the truffle sandwich gets to feel the hot Josper grill and voila – the divine truffle greeting from the hearth fire is ready.
- Le Saint Marc, 7 Rue Aloisi, 83630 Aups, Department Var
- Restaurant Hestia, Bd du Port, La Favière, 83230 Bormes-les-Mimosas, Department Var
- Var Tourisme, Provence – Cote d’Azur, visitvar.fr