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FOOD & DRINK

Discovery of wild truffle on Paris rooftop hailed as boon for urban gardeners

French gourmets were celebrating Friday after a wild truffle was discovered for what experts said was the first time ever in Paris.

Discovery of wild truffle on Paris rooftop hailed as boon for urban gardeners
Photo: Topager/MNHN
It's not exactly the sort of thing you expect to find nestled on a rooftop in the centre of the bustling French capital. 
 
In fact, experts believe it to be the first discovery of its kind in Paris.
 
The discovery in a hotel roof garden in the shadow of the Eiffel Tower comes as prices for the aromatic fungus have doubled to more than 5,000 euros ($6,000) a kilo.

Coming just before Christmas, when truffles are used to flavour such seasonal foods as foie gras and chestnut soup, it raises the hope of an undreamt-of windfall for the new wave of urban gardeners colonising city roofs.

“The discovery of this wild truffle is a wonderful example of how roof gardens and green roofs have a huge potential for urban biodiversity,” said the Museum of Natural History in the French capital, which revealed the find.

It also raised the question of whether the micro-climates roof gardens foster might be particularly favourable for truffles, the museum added.

The black “tuber brumale”, which tends to grow in the same regions as its more highly-prized cousin, the Perigord black truffle, was found at the base of a hornbeam tree on the roof of the Mercure Paris Centre Tour Eiffel hotel by Frederic Madre, a researcher from the museum's centre of ecology and conservation.

Madre is also a co-founder of the Topager startup which was responsible for putting organic gardens on the top of several major buildings in Paris.

Products made from truffle displayed on shelves at the Maison de la Truffe. Photo: AFP

City of roof gardens

It plans to add another to the roof of the Opera Bastille.

A 600-square-metre (6,450-square-foot) roof garden above the Pullman Paris Tour Eiffel hotel, around the corner from where the truffle was discovered, already supplies that hotel with honey, herbs, salad leaves and some of its vegetables and eggs, with chickens fed on its kitchen leftovers.

Deeply-flavoured truffles are usually hunted down and dug out of the ground using dogs or specially trained pigs.

The variety found in Paris is said by experts to be stronger and muskier than the classic black Perigord truffle found in the warmer climes of southern France, Italy, Spain and Croatia.

It has a light garlic aroma and a much more pronounced peppery flavour than the sweeter Perigord and Italian white truffles.

Although cheaper to buy than its grander cousins, the tuber brumale is preffered by many chefs to flavour sauces, rustic sausage and potato dishes and carpaccios of scallops.

Experts from the museum and mushroom specialists from the French Institute of Evolution and Biodiversity are now trying to work out how the truffle got onto the roof, “and if this is a good sign of the health of the Paris ecosystem.”

The French capital is making a major push towards urban gardening, aiming to have 100 hectares of roof gardens in the next two years, a third of which will grow herbs, vegetables and hops to flavour beer.

Underground car parks are also being turned over to grow mushrooms in beds made from used coffee grinds. 

More than 70 major companies have already signed up to have the roofs of their offices and buildings converted into vegetable plots.

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FOOD & DRINK

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

One thing everyone can agree on is that France has a lot of cheese - but exactly how many French fromages exist?

Reader question: Exactly how many different types of cheese are there in France?

Question: I often see a quote from Charles de Gaulle talking about ‘246 different types of cheese’, but other articles say there are 600 or even 1,000 different types of cheese and some people say there are just eight types – how many different cheeses are there in France?

A great question on a subject dear to French hearts – cheese.

But it’s one that doesn’t have a simple answer.

Charles de Gaulle did indeed famously say “How can anyone govern a country with 246 different types of cheese”, but even in 1962 when he uttered the exasperated phrase, it was probably an under-estimate.

READ ALSO 7 tips for buying cheese in France

The issue is how you define ‘different’ types of cheese, and unsurprisingly France has a complicated system for designating cheeses.

Let’s start with the eight – there are indeed eight cheese ‘families’ and all of France’s many cheeses can be categorised as one of;

  • Fresh cheese, such as cottage cheese or the soft white fromage blanc
  • Soft ripened cheese, such as Camembert or Brie
  • Soft ripened cheese with a washed rind, such as l’Epoisses or Pont l’Eveque
  • Unpasturised hard cheese such as Reblochon or saint Nectaire
  • Pasturised hard cheese such as Emmental or Comté
  • Blue cheese such as Roquefort 
  • Goat’s cheese
  • Melted or mixed cheese such as Cancaillot

But there are lots of different types of, for example, goat’s cheese.

And here’s where it gets complicated, for two reasons.

The first is that new varieties of cheese are constantly being invented by enterprising cheesemakers (including some which come about by accident, such as le confiné which was created in 2020).

The second is about labelling, geography and protected status.

France operates a system known as Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée (AOC or its European equivalent AOP) to designate food products that can only be made in a certain area.

As cheese is an artisan product, quite a lot of different cheese are covered by this – for example a blue sheep’s milk cheese is only Roquefort if it’s been aged in the caves in the village of Roquefort.

There are 63 listed AOC cheeses in France, but many more varieties that don’t have this protected status.

These include generic cheese types such as BabyBel and other cheeses that are foreign in origin but made in France (such as Emmental).

But sometimes there are both AOC and non-AOC versions of a single cheese – a good example of this is Camembert.

AOC Camembert must be made in Normandy by farmers who have to abide by strict rules covering location, milk type and even what their cows eat.

Factory-produced Camembert, however, doesn’t stick to these rules and therefore doesn’t have the AOC label. Is it therefore the same cheese? They’re both called Camembert but the artisan producers of Normandy will tell you – at some length if you let them – that their product is a totally different thing to the mass-produced offering.

There are also examples of local cheeses that are made to essentially the same recipe but have different names depending on where they are produced – sometimes even being on opposite sides of the same Alpine valley is enough to make it two nominally different cheeses.

All of which is to say that guessing is difficult!

Most estimates range from between 600 to 1,600, with cheese experts generally saying there are about 1,000 different varieties. 

So bonne dégustation!

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