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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