Wednesday, July 26, 2006

On Being an Expat Food Lover

I was born in Paris to a Swiss mother and an American father and grew up in the Middle East, Europe and the US. The expat term is something I am very familiar with. Although I am Swiss because of my mother, I was not born and raised here and Swiss German is not my native language and since I have only lived here for 7 years, my way of thinking is very different from the Swiss. I have based my wine and shipping businesses here entirely on the English speaking expats. Additionally, I am responsible for starting and running a large expat exposition called Expat-Expo. So the whole concept of being an ex-pat is clear to me.To me an ex-pat is not particularly trying to blend into the the society of his host country. He is a sort of permanent guest. I like this status. I like being "foreign" and different, especially in a society that would be very reluctant to accept me as one of them anyway. I have never considered myself to be an immigrant.

Anyway, as for my food.... because I spent lots of time in Switzerland when I was young, the tastes, smells and flavors of the food are permanently locked in my memory and when I lived in the States I longed to have them back. When I started returning regularly to Europe in my early thirties I found that I cooked exactly the same way as I did in the States but the taste was very different. It was because of the ingredients. Every time I would return to the US I would become depressed. No matter how fancy the gourmet store was, I could not get it to taste like it did in France. This realization dictated to me that I had to move back to Europe. I did and now (culinarily speaking) I don't even look back except for a few comfort foods which I can make here. I might also add that in the States, my cooking was flashy and artsy and now that I have discovered the simple regional foods of Italy and France my cooking is more humble and honest. Something I see as progressive.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

A Truffle Primer

Winter white truffles (tuber magnatum pico) are available from September through December and are hunted at night with specially trained dogs. The smell of a truffle comes only when it starts to decompose and only when they begin to smell can the dogs find them. The truffle is at it's peak for two or three days then dies fairly rapidly. This is why to really experience them you have to go to "The Zone"(the surrounding region of Alba).

The truffles from the Monferrato are every bit as fine as those from Alba and a little cheaper. Alba is a tourist trap during truffle season. I suggest going to the Moncalvo fair. It is smaller and you stand less chance of getting ripped off with imported truffles which are ofter sold by unscrupulous dealers.

Truffles should be wrapped individually in cheese cloth or in light, absorbent paper towel and the wrapping should be changed often. Store them in the least cool part of the refrigerator. When cleaning truffles, it is important to use a light brush and as little water as possible. To serve, slice the raw truffle into a dish using a special truffle knife.

The price varies according to availability and the point in the season you buy them. The price is usually between 2000 and 3000 Euros per kilo in "The Zone".

Truffle oils and bottled truffles:
In many restaurants in the States bottled truffles are enhanced with truffle oil and and the price of the dish sky-rockets.... the results are far less than desirable when compared to real white truffles from "The Zone" The smell of truffle oil is artificial and there is little or no flavor. Anyone that knows the genuine article will not be fooled. The advantage most restauranteurs have is that most diners have never had the real thing.

I remember sitting in a pizza restaurant when a "truffle" pizza came out. The whole room stunk like truffle oil. Every Piemontese at our table rolled their eyes and proclaimed it as disgusting.

I do suggest buying some oil and experimenting with it, but don't imagine for a second you are eating anything at all like the real thing. Be sure to not over do it. A little of this stuff goes a long way.
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