Truffles or Tricks

In the 18th century French gastronome Brillat-Savarin called these truffles “the diamond of the kitchen”. I amazed at the current knowledge of so-called connoisseurs and their ignorance when they buy “truffle pasta” smothered in oil. The use of white truffles and oil is perhaps one of the worst tricks.

The Italian white truffles and when it comes to truffles in Alba these types of tricks are forbidden. During the busiest in the months of October and November you can imagine how the prices soar. Each year I hear the same thing, “ the prices are so expensive” and each year the truffles are merely expensive.

Imagine the record price paid for a single white truffle was Euro 250,000 for a specimen weighing 1.5 kilograms. One of the largest white truffles found in decades.

However don’t hold your breath, this season is not anywhere near to last year with quantities and prices soaring. Last year at the same time (just prior to the opening of the season) I would meet with my truffle purveyor and he had 7/8 kilos of white truffles. This year only 1+ kilo. This is not surprising given the dry spell in Italy and the ripeness of the grapes. I am in search of the best truffles of the season and soon I will be able to judge what is and isn’t possible this season.

The question for any truffle fan is whether or not the truffles are authentic or are they picked up and tampered with to enhance the flavor. In many cases the oldest trick was to shove some dirt into the crevices of the truffles. Later the buyers would get fed up with paying for dirt. Worse the truffles were not from Alba and sometimes not from Italy but from neighboring countries or as far away as China. I recall a trip I made in Italy 20 years ago when I invited Filippo Giacone from Albarteto’s infamous Cesare restaurant to lunch in Barbaresco. He stared at the mushroom and without budging he refused to taste it. Upon a brief discussion, he asked me if I bought it from the old man at the road with a long beard. Unfortunately I had been duped but only this time. I learned that truffles are tricky and everyone wants to get a profit with doing very little given the demand is greater than the supply.

The most common trick these days is the use of silica sand and truffle that is 100% synthetic and made in a factory. They submerge them into the sand and try to enhance the flavor of the truffles. Looking carefully at the surface easily spots this. The true triflau will never do such a thing and it shouldn’t be a subject of conversation in order to avoid insults.

Picture: This is my first truffle of the season and I am not hunting yet. This is a gift from a traveling hunter (for the last 30 years) and he offered it as a gesture until I get into the forest.

Categories: Facts