Most people who come to Italy (or go to a fancy restaurant in the US during truffle season), experience this morsel – the most expensive in the world – shaved and on top of a plate of pasta. The aroma is unforgettable and the taste, both delicate and pungent at the same time – cannot be compared to anything else you’ve eaten.
But, it’s one thing to spend $100 on a serving of white truffle-infused tagliatelle, it’s quite another to be present when the truffle has been found.
Found – not picked. One of several reasons it is the most expensive food in the world. ($2,500 per pound).
That’s a lot to pay for fungus. So, what is the big deal?
This particular fungus has to connect with a tree’s root and from this symbiotic relationship, the mushroom grows underground as pockets of spores and the gases produced create a very strong smell as late Fall arrives. Humans can’t smell them but pigs and dogs can and it’s the musky pheromones that create the very excitable digging for them that is the first step toward them landing in your plate of pasta.
Once dug up, the truffle (il tartufo) has a very short shelf life. The more days that pass (even when great care is taken to preserve them), the more their special flavor and aroma fades.
By the time they get to the United States to restaurants and gourmet specialty stores, the qualities decline while the price increases because even when they are losing their perfection, they are still an extraordinary culinary treat (and have to pass through the hands of middlemen).
The truffle cannot be cultivated (although attempts are ongoing with mixed results). To taste a white truffle in peak season hours after it has been “caught,” is an experience that can only be had in Italy (or France) and in the moment.
In a few short weeks, I will be taking the Aria Tour Group on a truffle hunt. It is one of the most fun things we do.
Meet Luna and Rambo. They are of the rare breed known as Lagotto Romagnolo, and cost close to $10,000 each.
Luna is trained to find white truffles. Rambo the black ones. Their master, who clearly adores them, and vice versa allows us to go along with them on this merry romp through the woods. Because the dogs will eat the truffles, he has to be right on top of them as they pounce on the spot. And we all say, “Brava, Luna!”
Decadence on a Fork
(With the towers of San Gimignano looming nearby, it transports you back in time to when Renaissance citizens began to hunt and appreciate the truffle. We are having the identical experience.)
A few hours later, my guests sit down at our table at the Villa and enjoy a sumptuous multiple course dinner of truffles – the first course is white truffles in fondue, the second is home-made tagliatelle and the third on top of a filet mignon.
In this day and age when we are accustomed to buying anything we want at the grocery store from all over the world, the truffle stands alone as almost unattainable. It is rare, exotic, sensual and rewards only those who prize it enough to make the trip.
“We were aware of an odour coming towards us, something musky, fiery, savoury, mysterious – a hot drowsy smell that lulls the senses and yet enflames them – the truffles were coming.” – William Thackeray
There are a couple of spots left at my table the week of October 21st.
Spring! April 7 – 14. Another season of wonders in Tuscany, before the crowds set in.
I will be in Italy through Mid-November, posting one moment of beauty a day on FB and Instagram.
Saturday Afternoon, December 2 – My Tuscan Aria Christmas Market – Nestle Inn – I will be sharing some of my Italian treats and “finds” from my Fall trip, including exquisitely carved handmade olive wood items and woven linens to make the Foodies and Cooks in your life very happy. Come have a glass of wine with me while checking some things off your gift list.
If you enjoy reading this blog, please do share it with others who love all things Italian.
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