Truffles, as in the tuber kind.
Truffles thrust me into a gastronomic divide–life before truffles, and life after truffles.
French epicure and gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin once referred to truffles as “the diamond of the kitchen.” They are so valuable that people are employed as French Truffle Inspectors due to the presence of imposter truffles on the market. So valuable, in fact, that people will kill for them. Black truffles cost roughly $1000 per pound while white truffles straight from Alba demand an even steeper $6000-$10000 per pound.
I was fortunate to experience these delicacies for the first time when I was fairly young. I was with my parents in New Orleans at Louis XVI Restaurant (now closed), and I ordered the wild mushroom risotto. White truffles had been shaved onto the risotto as a garnish.
I was intoxicated by this new flavor. It was earthy and nutty and exquisitely complex. I had questions. I asked to speak to the chef.
He graciously proceeded to spin the most fascinating yarn about pigs–or rather truffle hogs– in France that were employed to dig for these subterranean treasures. The hogs are seduced by the truffles’ aroma and feverishly dig until they find them, revealing the glorious gems to the farmers. The caveat is the truffles must then be wrested from the unwilling mouths of the hogs before they consume them. .
Ce n’est pas maintenant.
Truffle dogs have since replaced truffle hogs because there is less scuffling. Apparently, dogs are more favorable because they do not have a palate for these jewels.
I recently purchased two black summer truffles when I was in Antibes for 40 euros. I shaved one onto my homemade potato crisps– c’est manifique! With the other I am tempted to try a truffle sandwich as purists with big purses do.
For the longest time I thought truffles came from exotic, myth-like lands far away. That is, until a couple of years ago when I stumbled upon this article from Garden & Gun about pecan truffle trees in Georgia.
If starting a trufferie piques your interest, inoculated trees are available for purchase. You must know, however, that truffles can be persnickety. Soil conditions must be impeccable, and you may not even harvest your first fruit for 4-8 years. I have heard tales of people hiring truffle nannies to watch over their tubers when on holiday. It’s little wonder they are so valued.
If you do decide to begin a trufferie, please invite me to your harvest. I have an old Nebbiolo from Barbaresco I’ve been waiting to uncork.