Au revoir, France!

Hello from the US! We’ve been back in the states for about 5 days now and are spending our quarantine in Bath, NC, so it seems like the best time to work on our blog and update you on what our last couple of weeks in France were like.

France went under a second lockdown in November of 2020, which means we haven’t really been able to do much in these last few months. Nevertheless, there are a few fun times to feature before we talk about our journey back! 

We were really lucky to be able to do a lot of interesting things and see a lot of amazing places while living in France. One of those things was truffle hunting! And we were even more lucky to do it twice! Once in September of 2020 and the second time in February 2021 as a “COVID-safe going away party.”

The farm, Les Pastras, is a really great place to tour. It’s the same place I went grape-stomping with friends. The owner is a great host and makes it really fun and educational. 

At the truffle hunt, we learned about the process of starting and growing a truffle farm, and the impact global climate change has had on the truffle industry as a whole. The farm buys oak trees with roots that have been inoculated with the truffle spores. With the right weather conditions, watering and light—and in 7 to 10 years—a tree will produce its first truffle! And because truffles grow under the ground, there’s no way to know if the spores are still alive until 10 or 15 years down the line when it finally begins to show signs of production. If it doesn’t, then you just have a nice oak tree, but no truffles.

When the spores are mature, and begin to produce, the grass dies out around the tree, almost like it’s been burned away, which lets the farmer know that truffles can be found under that tree. Then during truffle season, they take their trained truffle-hunting dogs and go searching. The dogs smell the truffles and begin digging. Once they get close (the truffles are only about 6 inches under the dirt), the truffle hunters start pulling it up to keep the dogs from damaging it with their paws. It’s a well-oiled operation.

During our hunt in February, we found a truffle the size of an apple! It was huge. They let Jonathan and me dig it up out of the ground which was really fun. The smell was incredibly strong, even before it was out. 

After hunting, we sat near the pool, drank champagne and ate truffles in different ways to really understand the way a truffle should taste and learned the proper ways of serving them in dishes. The biggest takeaways for us were: 

  • Truffles are best when mixed with salt and fat (ie. butter, cheese, ham, etc.)
  • Don’t cook the truffle or it will lose all its flavor
  • Finally, if you order a dish with fresh truffle at a restaurant, always ask to see the truffle before serving. If you don’t see the white veins running throughout the slices, don’t bother. It’s old and won’t be good, so don’t waste your money.

Going back in time a little more, in October we went to a cabin with friends. A few of them were cycling in the mountains and the rest of us were just relaxing. It was a nice change of scenery from Aix. Jonathan and I went on a couple of small hikes through the hills and we explored the little town with Cindi and Lauren. We made lots of great food, including raclette. Delicious! It ended up being the last exploring outside of our area we did while in France, but it was a good way to close out our travels.

Back to current times now! Our last few weeks in Aix, we tried to see as many friends as possible, safely. It’s hard to feel like you can really say goodbye and make such a big trip when you aren’t able to have an official “going away party” or see people in the days and weeks leading up to your departure. We visited a few of our friends Jonathan met while playing Magic when we first moved here. They made us some delicious northern French food (Carbonade Flamande) and we played board games and sat outside and drank wine. (Editor’s note: Jonathan here. We also played Magic of course! Now I have a lot of awesome French magic cards to use back in the US, thanks to Leo and Alex.) 

We were also able to say goodbye (and hello) to the past and current post-docs at ITER. It was good to be able to see the last two who Jonathan had worked with for the past two years and meet two of the new post-docs who started recently.

Our last few days in Aix, we cleaned and packed like crazy. We came to France with four suitcases and lived in a furnished apartment. We tried not to buy too many things while staying, but we still somehow ended up boarding the plane with 8 suitcases and 4 boxes of all our things. We are nothing, if not good at buying lots of small things because, “Oh, it won’t take up too much space!” Miraculously, everything survived our plane flight back to the US!

After we moved out of our apartment, Cindi and Orlando were kind enough to let us crash at their place for a few days while we finalized everything before our trip. They fed us great food, including Côte de Bœuf, and kept us sane. We had lunch with Lauren and Jed on their patio and were able to have a final glass of rosé with them. Our last night, we ate empanadas with Cindi, Orlando, Stephanie and Karina in a final send off. It was so nice to see people one last time before we flew home. We’re going to miss them all so much, but I know we’ll see them again one day.

To all our friends in France, thank you for your kindness you showed us the past two and a half years. We wouldn’t have had such a wonderful time in Aix had it not been for you. We have so many wonderful memories and look forward to the next time we get to share a glass of wine or play a board game with all of you. Thanks again and à bientôt!

P.S. Please enjoy the image we made to celebrate the new year/kick out the old year. We had fun hiding little “Easter Eggs” in the image.