Les Pastras Gourmet Pursuits Unearthing Truffles
Chicago might seem like a world away from the pastures of Provence, but Lisa and Johann Pepin tell me that adjusting to life in the south of France was relatively easy. They left corporate jobs (public relations and finance) in Chi-town, as only 30-yearolds can do, with the confidence that if their passion pursuit did not work out something else would.
Johann grew up under the Provencal sun near the village of Cadenet helping his grandfather tend to the family’s 11-hectare property. Johann’s grandparents were Parisians only by geography as Provence ruled their hearts. The draw of the South was magnetic enough that they bought a parcel of land including its rugged 1880’s homestead in 1970. His grandfather renovated the house and relocated the family (including Johann’s great-grandparents) from Paris.
Derived from old Provencal language the name Les Pastras translates into “the pastures.” Johann grandfather’s real passion is gardening (even at 92), and this rural property was a dream come true for him. He planted an orchard with fruit trees (cherries, apricots, peaches, pomegranates, apples, and pears) alongside the Provencal essentials – almonds, olives, and grapes. His potager (vegetable garden) still supplies the family with seasonal herbs and vegetables.
It has been 11 years since Lisa and Johann made their move from the United States. They traded business suits for gumboots and garden gloves to manage an agricultural pursuit and become trufficulteurs (truffle cultivators). Surrounded by an ‘advisory’ team (neighbours and family) who understand the land, the seasons, and the wild weather in Provence this couple is putting their stamp on Les Pastras.
They currently sell organic table grapes and are hoping to add honey and wine to their roster shortly (2015).
There are currently about 600 olive trees producing about half a ton of olives or 100 liters of olive oil/year. The volumes should increase as younger trees mature. You can order Les Pastras olive oil here.
However, it is their truffle plantation that gets the most attention with more than 600 truffle oaks (100 mature trees and 500 saplings). In November 2013, Les Pastras began a tree adoption program where you can adopt your choice of a truffle oak or olive tree (this might be a one of a kind program). At the time of writing, more than 60 trees have been adopted.
Alternatively, if you would like a few truffles for dinner, you can order Les Pastras truffles (in season) or olive oil to your doorstep, follow this link.
The Pepin’s are an innovative couple focused on growing their business and increasing awareness of the black truffle – the black diamond. Les Pastras offers truffle hunting tours and now mushroom/fishing excursions. Jean-Marc, a longtime friend of Lisa and Johann’s, is the hunter-gatherer who leads these delicious, educational tours. Lisa explained that Jean-Marc might have a bit of “Mantracker” in his blood:
At 17-years, old Jean-Marc was taught to hunt truffles using the fly method; a painstaking, patience-testing process of finding truffles.
As the hunter walks along he disturbs the ground with a branch, when he sees the correct type of fly zoom away, he stops in his tracks and waits for the insect to return. When it does, the hunter then digs underneath that spot for the truffle – hoping for a gourmet bingo. Needless to say, this takes much time and a very keen eye.
Now, Jean-Marc is typically found hunting with trained dogs; Pupuce, a dog that he rescued, or her daughter Mirabelle.
Life in idyllic Provence is treating the Pepin’s well, and they are giving back to those who are far less fortunate with Les Pastras Haiti relief donations.
Feel free to get in touch with Lisa and Johann Pepin if you have questions on Les Pastras they promise to get back to you after they take off their gumboots.
Image Credits: All photos were provided by and published with the permission of Les Pastras