You Might Be Able To Afford White Truffles Soon, So Here’s How To Fully Appreciate Them


The white truffle is an alluring and mysterious flower of the ascomycete fungus. It’s the holy grail tuber to many a food lover — they’re rare, harvested in a short season, and the best of the species are only found in a few small valleys around Alba, in northern Italy. They’re hunted with hounds (while black truffles are commonly hunted with hogs), which adds to the treasure-seeking narrative. All of this equates to a high cost of entry on this particular funky foodie ride. Most of the time. This year heavy rains during the summer and early autumn caused an earlier than expected bloom around Alba and white truffle season started about two months early. Better still: They’re having a bumper crop.

As a result, prices have taken a major dive — meaning that we all might be able to afford a dish with truffles on it this winter. But would we be able to appreciate said dish? A few complications: 1) the taste and aroma of truffles fades quickly, so to buy a good truffle means you have to be able to recognize a fresh truffle; 2) people have varying receptors to white truffles and find different notes of musk, garlic, onion, cream, and sometimes sulphur or chocolate (those are just a few of the 35 known odors); 3) the quality of your experience also depends on your ability to register the molecule “androstenone,” and, no, not everyone is able to do so — meaning that the subtly of truffles is simply lost on many people.

So what does Italy’s bumper crop mean for the average consumer all the way over in America? Sadly not that much… yet. The prices for 72g (2.54oz) fell to €100 ($109) this year. Last year the same money would have fetched a buyer only 52g (1.83oz). Those probably sound like minimal differences, but it’s good to remember that each serving you’ll get on a pasta or cheese plate is around 4g (0.14oz) per person per serving. You’re not eating these things like apples. So the price change equates to about five extra servings per €100 cache.

Tragically, this has yet to trickle down to restaurant menu prices, especially stateside. Thomas Keller and Mario Batali don’t seem to be charging any less for their white truffle tasting menus, which is fair since they do have to ship them in from Italy after all. So what’s the best bet to getting your hands on this cheaper bumper crop of white truffles? Maybe it’s time for a trip to Italy.

If you do encounter truffles this year, don’t be discouraged if the taste is lost on you … or if they taste like urine (seriously). Sometimes our taste receptors betray us and with all the forgeries and old truffles, disappointment is common. It’s important to ask the server or seller where the truffles came from and when they arrived — it’s only a 7 hour flight from Italy to New York. They have to be as fresh as possible (within 10 days of harvest) for their lushness to be enjoyed.

Moreover, if you’re ordering truffles look for the dish where the white truffle will shine. Lean towards gentle pastas with very light, earthy sauces or a nicely done white fish or steak. A pizza with an overwhelming tomato base and cheese isn’t going to highlight any truffle and the price you’re paying will seem extra futile. Overall, white truffles are a bit like caviar, they’re best served with a well-toned base that will allow the main (read: super expensive) ingredient to shine.

(Via Bloomberg)

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