Published by Slow Food Editore based in the Northwestern Italian region of Piedmont, this “slow” guide is very useful to any regular truffle eater or passionate foodie craving knowledge about one of the most expensive edible ingredients found. Only saffron and the Matsutake mushrooms in their peak season in Japan flash prices close to the White Alba Truffle.
So, why generally are truffles so pricey? They are rare, they are highly seasonal, they are mysterious and they are uniquely and strongly aromatic. Yes, but most of nature’s produce is seasonal, some mushrooms look as ugly or worse as a truffle does, and most of cheese (Stinking Bishop, French Epoisses, …) can surpass truffles on the scale of smelliness. Just put your ski on and take a break at any fondue restaurant in the Alps if you seek a strongly aromatic environment yet for a crack of the price of a truffle shaved paper thin on your eggs, pasta or risotto. Rarity though is what counts in the commodity sphere, and truffles are indeed the diamonds of food.
This boney stone-like chunk of edible pleasure is nutritionally irrelevant. Except for some minerals from the soil, there is not much a human body can benefit from while digesting truffles. Consumed in such minuscule shavings, you can just zero them at all.
Truffles’ charm dwells in their aroma. The incomparable oozing of the truffle perfume arises one’s nostrils and who knows what else, similarly to certain smells in other natural aromas like orris, rose, oud (extract agarwood) or the mythical animal extracts like musk and ambergis that is produced in the digestive system of sperm whales do. These extracts for perfumes are extremely laborious to obtain, yet still the process is is under human control, while finding a wild truffle in nature would be hardly possible without a well-trained pal from the animal kingdom – a dog or a pig. The later is questionable to what extent it can be trained, and it happens quite often that the pigs eat the truffle or crack their surface, which lowers their quality and naturally the price.
This slow manual will stir your curiosity and give plenty of answers about the praised truffle. After introducing the book through characteristics, environmental specifications and listing the types of trees favoring the truffles’ habitat, it has narrowed its focus to the Langhe region.
Although various types of truffles can be found in different parts of the world, not all are equal. The mini-guide clarifies, that “only about nine of 60 Tuber species classified around the world are edible“! From Europe, through Canada to China, once in a while a dog or a pig sniffs them out off the ground, but the best one is Tuber Magnatum, the White Alba Truffle that grows mainly in Italy. You will find in the book where else it can be possibly found.
What sets the White Alba Truffle apart from any other type of truffle is that it cannot be farmed, it is found only in the wild nature and it is not easy to find. Without a well-trained dog, you could dig into half of the forest’s soil, very deep, seeking roots on which this symbiotic underground mushroom grows. Once unearthed the fragrance keeps for about 4-7 days if this edible gem is stored properly. Tuber Magnatum can be found only between mid-October and January.
The book uproots any myths there might be about the White Alba Truffle, and to no surprise there are many that will amuse. How silly was I to believe to some of these rumors? It is likely that there is at least one misconception you have about truffles as I did, but after skimming through the less than 100 pages of this guide (excluding the Itineraries and Recipes) you will shift your knowledge base on the correct track.
You will also learn what to look for in terms of quality, how to spot scams, the best places to buy truffles in Italy, the laws concerning foraging and where protecting consumers is legally bound. Follow practical tips for how to store, clean and serve the precious fungi to avoid disappointment. Nobody wants to make expensive mistakes – in the case of a small white truffle hundreds of Euros can fly out of your pocket, as if you just threw a small diamond into the sea.
The book’s title is about “the Truffle”, and take it to the word since the publishers focus on their Piedmontese region and do not exhaust the topic on all the nine edible truffle species found globally. On the flip side, specific truffle hunting-discovering itineraries connecting the visitor with other charms of the regions encourage “slow tourism”. From Alba through the hills of Barbaresco and Barolo, wine, culture, royal architecture, all set in the context of history with driving tips, are surely handy.
The history of truffle fairs is explored commencing with how Giacomo Morra, an Alba restaurateur elevated the reputation of the Piedmontese truffle around the world and laid foundations to the first truffle fair in the world – in Alba. In his foreword to the guide, the Slow Food President Carlo Petrini storms about the modern whims of manufacturing synthetic truffle aromas, while enticing potential visitors: “Lovers of good food can come here to eat what little there is, fresh, fragrant and perfumed.”
Genuine in its slow lifestyle philosophy, the well-documented guide includes suitable photographs as well as pretty illustrations and pencil drawings, that are as enjoyable as they are useful.
The final chapter includes classic recipes such as Truffles with the egg-rich Tajarin pasta, Eggs Fried in Butter, Fondue, Veal Tartare, White Risotto, but also creative takes of the most distinguished local chefs such as Enrico Crippa from the Michelin-starred Ristorante Piazza Duomo in Alba and others.
After reading Discovering the Truffle, you will be set for your trip to Piedmont this or next fall, but make sure to visit once, since tasting a white truffle that was just found this morning is an experience like no other.