IT is four o'clock in the afternoon and the church tower in Villefranche du Périgord chimes the hour, but also the opening of the marché aux cèpes, writes Carol Miers.
People pass through the barriers and exchange a handful of euros for a box full of cèpes, the large bun-like mushroom found in the woods of the Dordogne.
It has been a good year for the marché, in the past it has not been able to open as the delicate balance required of the weather was not right.
Cèpes need warmish temperatures, but also a slight chill that gives the initial mycelium a thermal shock, followed by rain and about ten days later beneath the pines, oak or chestnut trees the first signs of the mushroom will bloom.
Down seldom used lanes in the forest, vans come to a stop and locals get out with wicker baskets sometimes lined with soft green leaves to show off the mushrooms once collected.
Walkers may hear strange scuffling sounds and voices from thickets under the trees, while local farmers arrive bearing gifts of trays of cèpes but also orange amanite des Césars.
For maybe a week or so the woods are glazed by unusual bouquets and clusters of fungi; girolles, lactaire delixieux, chanterelles, parasol mushrooms, brittlegills, puffballs.
For every changing season, a crop. Today the fleeting marché aux cèpes, short-lived, before the farmers rush home for the next harvest, la châtaigne.
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