This Massive Omelette Contains €8,760 worth of truffles

Every year, the villagers of the tiny, remote French village of Lalbenque prepare an omelette that takes 2,480 eggs and 7.3 kilograms of truffles.

Aug 6 2016, 4:00pm

I'd heard people say that, somewhere in the department of Lot, in the heart of summer, a tiny, remote village prepares a giant truffle omelette every year. After a bit of research, some locals finally gave away the deets: The culinary feat takes place at the end of July in a reception hall in Lalbenque. I wasn't going to miss this tour de force for anything in the world.

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All photos by author.

I set off on my quest without really knowing what was in store. As I made my way down truffle highway (along Route A20, exit 58 towards Cahors Sud), old memories caught up with me. I found myself humming the tune of "Omelette" on the road—that legendary parody by Les Nuls: "Ooooomelet, ooooomelet, with tomatoes and mushrooms...Ooooomelet, ooooomelet, with potatoes and onions…"
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Once there, I did what I always do when I land in unknown territory: watch people for a while, scan the architecture, and take stock of the general atmosphere. Here I was, in a very small town in the regional park of the Causses du Quercy. It has fewer than 2,000 inhabitants, but that night, 550 portions of the giant omelet will be served on the Mercadiol square, across from the fire station. In that first moment, though, the only things heating up were the stone façades of buildings, reflecting the sun's rays and making temperatures rise.

The few passersby I saw—shopkeepers returning to work after their lunch break and a few groups of tourists—were pacing up and down the shady side of the aptly named Rue du Marché aux Truffes, the main thoroughfare in Lalbenque, the capital of the black truffles of Quercy (a truffle street market).

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Eventually, I made my way to the entrance of the reception hall. I introduced myself and was invited in. Standing on both sides of a long table, a handful of volunteers were already at work breaking eggs, emptying their contents into large buckets in a single motion.

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The measurements are precise: 200 eggs per bucket. In total, the shells of 2,480 eggs were shattered in a single afternoon. The task force here doesn't really resemble the kind you'd see on TV: only one very well-educated man among a group of women, including a blonde who vaguely reminded me of Madonna in Desperately Seeking Susan. Omelette giant truffe 2

Despite the rapid pace of the work at hand, the atmosphere remained laid back. People were casually chatting at their stations, staying on task—and within the span of an hour, it was mission accomplished.

The measurements are precise: 200 eggs per bucket. In total, the shells of 2,480 eggs were shattered in a single afternoon.

Meanwhile, in the kitchen, two guys in aprons were carefully handling the truffles, the superstars of the day. Pierre Baysse and Emmanuel Bréant were grating, peeling, and chopping the small pieces that would end up inside the egg-filled buckets, according to specific dosages established beforehand. A third helper poured in some milk, and added salt and pepper to the mixture.

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These guys know a thing or two about how to prep and cook with truffles. "Truffles have a strong flavor, so it's important that they come into contact with the egg yolks early on," explains Emmanuel Bréant, the manager of a nearby hotel, who agrees to give us some tips for a successful omelette. "It's the same principle as a truffle purée: ideally, you want to blend the eggs and the truffles a day before in a sealed container."

There's no room for improvisation when you're manipulating this "black diamond," whose retail price reached 1,200 euros per kilo in the local markets this past winter. A total of 7.3 kilos of truffles, which were kept frozen since the winter, were served in the giant omelet. To calculate the whole value, I'll let you do the math.

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The black truffle, Tuber Melanosporum, is a winter truffle—it's kept in the freezer in order to be consumed in the summer.
Site Remarquable du Goût

Christine Vigouroux, the president of the (Sites are regions in France recognized for their gastronomic heritage) of the truffle market of Lalbenque spearheaded the event. She explained that freezing the truffles helps preserve all of their flavors. "The black truffle is a winter product," she adds. "(But) in order to better promote it, we hope to reach a larger audience by organizing this giant omelette event during the summer."

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Omelette giant truffe 11 Lors de la préparation du mélange à omelette, le jaune de l'œuf tourne au marron truffé.

While the summer truffle, called Saint-Jean, also grows in the area, it's only traded for around 50 euros a kilo. Its refinement and prestige are dwarfed by those of the luxurious Tuber Melanosporum of wintertime, dubbed "melano" for short by those in the know.

During the preparation of the omelette, the egg yolks turn a truffle-brown color. I'll spare you the technical details involved in mycorrhization, a complex phenomenon of symbiosis between mushrooms and tree roots. You might like to know, nonetheless, that the "melano," a heterosexual mushroom, is the fruit of a foursome between a bunch of things with barbaric scientific names that live underground—things we humans would only find arousing with a gun to the head.

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Anyway, the main thing you need to remember is that the production of the black truffle of Quercy has been free falling for a century. According to Alain Ambialet, the president of the truffle farmer union of the region of Lalbenque, 300 tons were harvested in 1906 in the department of Lot, versus only 3 tons in 2006. So who or what is to blame? People answered me without really answering. All I could really gather is that "the progress" of modern agriculture, especially the introduction of industrial fertilizers, have cut the legs off the melano. The black truffle liked the old days better, when it could prosper in a completely natural environment.

Around each skillet, the experts are constantly turning the mixture so it doesn't stick, bringing to life an interesting ballet of hands.

"When I was little, everyone went out for truffles," an indigenous octogenarian told me. "Everyone had their own pig for the hunt," he adds. "Mine was so well trained that I kept him on a leash."

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Back on Mercadiol square, at around 4pm, 20 or so volunteers set the tables for the evening banquet. As it turned out, welcoming hundreds of guests is a pretty significant logistical feat. The AV system was installed, as were the beer kegs, the cutlery, and the chairs. Paper tablecloths were taped down securely, under the unrelenting southern sun. Christine Vigouroux, hostess for the day, and normally a winemaker with vineyards a few kilometers away, was busy orchestrating everything—organizing people and objects, moving things around, and doling out advice. This was no game to her and she was going the extra mile. The giant omelette is an important annual event for the promotion of the black truffle, whose cause she has made it her duty to champion. Omelette giant truffe 14

The buckets, en route from the reception hall located several hundred meters away, finally arrived. Around 7pm, it's time for pre-dinner drinks, and several hungry guests were already there. The fervor rose steadily, and pretty quickly, a blow of the whistle would mark the kickoff. Intrigued by the ritual, I got as close as I could to the two giant skillets, where I found Pierre Baysse and Emmanuel Bréant ready to fire off the stovetops. First, oil was drizzled evenly across the entire surface. The contents of an entire bucket were then poured into a single skillet—and if you've been paying any attention, you'll recall that's 200 eggs in one go!

The preparation was still liquid at that point, but its color had completely changed into a rich truffle-brown. The smell was enticing. Around each skillet, the experts are constantly turning the mixture so it doesn't stick, bringing to life an interesting ballet of hands. In less than three minutes, magic ensued. The mixture became solid; it was a masterpiece—like Van Gogh's sunflowers. And was served immediately.

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The first customers lined up, salivating as they traded in their ticket for an empty plate, which soon got filled up with a handsome portion. As for me, I was drooling even more than the giant omelette. The ticket I was given read 14, the lucky number worn by Johan Cruyff. In their own way, the gods were telling me that I wouldn't be disappointed—and they were right on point. Count me in for next year.

This story originally appeared on MUNCHIES FR in August 2016.