Sometimes, the prestige of a product is deceptive. Buried in the shallow ground underneath the oak trees of Italy lie one of the most revered ingredients of the Italian culinary world. They aren’t dug up with machines or shovels but rather they are laboriously and enthusiastically hunted by trained pigs and more recently, dogs. The transition to dogs was made because the pigs, recognizing a good thing when they find it, are somewhat reluctant to relinquish the fungus. While black truffles are delicious, there is nothing quite like the prized white truffles. Black truffles are more commonly found and recently are even being cultivated in places like China (the result is not yet comparable to the wild fungus but it’s a start). White truffles on the other hand are quite rare and only found in a few regions, primarily around the city of Alba in the region of Piedmont but also in Tuscany which produces about 25% of the white truffles in Italy. As a comparison, the black truffle will cost approximately $95/ounce whereas the winter white truffle will run you about $175/ounce. This weekend was the kick off the White Truffle Fair in the Tuscan Town of San Miniato while the 86th Alba Truffle Festival has been underway since October 8th and will run until the end of November.
These festivals are two of the most popular of the sagra season. Everyone wants to get in on the truffle craze and this might be the best (and most affordable) way to do so. There are stands filled with the actual truffles in various sizes. There are also vendors offering truffle oil, truffle chocolates, wine, truffle studded cheeses and salami and much more. Truffles begin to lose their aroma (and therefore their flavor) 2 - 3 days after they are taken from the ground so having the opportunity totaste them in situ is in fact the best way. Obviously at these celebrations, the opportunity to enjoy truffles are numerous. They are divine shaved over fresh pasta, risotto or even scrambled eggs. Of course, the flavor is not for everyone. They have an extremely earthy flavor and usually those who don’t care for mushrooms will not have a taste for truffles. But for those who like them, there is nothing like it. Thankfully, the flavor is potent and it takes little to impart the essence of the truffle into any dish.
I would love to share a recipe that uses the white truffle with you but to be honest, it is not much a recipe. Purchase some fresh (not dried, boxed) pasta, preferably pasta that is made with egg. Cook the pasta, toss with butter and parmesan cheese. Shave white truffle on top and serve. Seriously, the most difficult part of this recipe will be opening your wallet and forking over the money for the tuber.
If you are inclined to purchase a truffle for your next dinner party, the Urbani company can hook you up. You can buy their products at Eataly. Just make sure you invite people you really love. And cross your fingers that one of your guests doesn't make this mistake.