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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.

CULTURE

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

The French have developed an entire cultural tradition around the idea of an afternoon snack. It's called "Le goûter" and here's what you need to know about it.

Le goûter: The importance of the afternoon snack in France

With all those patisseries and viennoiseries tempting the tastebuds in high street boulangerie after boulangerie, there can be little wonder that France  – which takes food very seriously – has also invented the correct time to eat them.

Let us introduce you to the cultural tradition of le goûter – the noun of the verb “to taste”, and a cultural tradition in France dating back into the 19th century, perhaps even as far back as the Renaissance … allowing for the fact that people have snacked for centuries, whether or not it had a formal name. 

It refers to a very particular snack time, usually at around 4pm daily. This is the good news.

The bad news is that, officially, le goûter is reserved for children. This is why many schools, nurseries and holiday activity centres offer it and offices don’t. The idea is that, because the family evening meal is eaten relatively late, this mid-afternoon snack will keep les enfants from launching fridge raids, or bombarding their parents with shouts of, “j’ai faim!”.

Most adults, with their grown-up iron will-power, are expected to be able to resist temptation in the face of all that pastry, and live on their three set meals per day. Le grignotage – snacking between meals – is frowned on if you’re much older than your washing machine.

But, whisper it quietly, but just about everyone snacks (grignoter), anyway – a baguette that doesn’t have one end nibbled off in the time it takes to travel from boulanger to table isn’t a proper baguette. Besides, why should your children enjoy all the treats? 

We’re not saying ignore the nutritionists, but if you lead an active, reasonably healthy lifestyle, a bite to eat in the middle of the afternoon isn’t going to do any harm. So, if you want to join them, feel free.

What do you give for goûter 

It’s a relatively light snack – we’re not talking afternoon tea here. Think a couple of biscuits, a piece of cake, a pain au chocolat (or chocolatine, for right-thinking people in southwest France), piece of fruit, pain au lait, a croissant, yoghurt, compote, or a slice of bread slathered in Nutella.

Things might get a little more formal if friends and their children are round at the goûter hour – a pre-visit trip to the patisserie may be a good idea if you want to avoid scratching madly through the cupboards and don’t have time to create something tasty and homemade.

Not to be confused with

Une collation – adult snacking becomes socially acceptable when it’s not a snack but part of une collation served, for example, at the end of an event, or at a gathering of some kind. Expect, perhaps, a few small sandwiches with the crusts cut off, a few small pastries, coffee and water.

L’apéro – pre-dinner snacks, often featuring savoury bites such as charcuterie, olives, crisps and a few drinks, including alcoholic ones, as a warm up to the main meal event, or as part of an early evening gathering before people head off to a restaurant or home for their evening meal.

Un en-cas – this is the great adult snacking get-out. Although, in general, snacking for grown-ups is considered bad form, sometimes it has to be done. This is it. Call it un en-cas, pretend you’re too hungry to wait for the next meal, and you’ll probably get away with it.

Le goûter in action

Pour le goûter aujourd’hui, on a eu un gâteau – For snack today, we had some cake.

Veuillez fournir un goûter à votre enfant – Please provide an afternoon snack for your child.

J’ai faim ! Je peux avoir un goûter ? – I’m hungry! Can I have a snack?

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