My very first experience was traveling in Alba with a small group of New York members of Slow Food. On the first day after a morning walking the Truffle Fair and having an aperitif with the mayor in front of Palazzo del Comune, we went on to a nine course truffle lunch at Osteria del Vicoletto. I was a white truffle virgin and boy, did that lunch change my life! I was hooked on Tuber Magnatum Pico, the overwhelming smell and flavor. To this day, I can close my eyes and remember a steaming creamy polenta topped with shavings, but that was only one of the nine courses.
I had really gone on this trip to the Slow Food Convivium in early November held in Alba for the wine experiences. For me I wanted to decipher Barbaresco, Nebbiolo, Grignolino, Ghemme and of course, Barolo. I had the pleasure of meeting Aldo Conterno, Bruno Ceretto and Michele Chiarlo on this trip – truly a triumvirate of the top winemakers.
I was able to have a magical experience with Bruno Ceretto truffle hunting on a foggy morning with the dogs on his wooded hillside. Scratch and scratching for that musky scent and then poof there was another in the basket.
Biologically, the truffle is a fungus that grows beneath the soil surface having an affinity for tree roots like oaks or hazelnuts. A good truffle hunter will know the signs of where to dig as the truffle emits a gas that prevents grass or weeds from growing and another giveaway are tiny flies buzzing around. Many use dogs with their sensitive noses who can be trained not to eat the yummy truffle, but get a substitute treat instead.
Once you are initiated, you seek out truffles in many places around the world. In Provence a few years ago, I went to a lunch at Maison de la Truffe et du Vin in Luberon for one of those fateful meals. Starting with the aperitif of Champagne topped with vin La Truffe in the garden. It was not just the location, company and wine, but this was momentous! Every dish was divine and each containing Tuber Melanosporum.
Go to Burgundy in the Hautes Cotes de Nuits there is a truffle farm with rows of hazelnut trees where you will find Tuber Uncinatum. This farm offers educational tours and tastings when you need to take a break from wine tasting of Vosne Romanee.
In Spain, Aragón is largest producer of the winter truffles. They grow in middle to high mountainous areas with good rainfall. It is estimated that 60% of Aragon’s wooded area is dedicated to black truffle farming.
Yes, even in Limestone, Tennessee there is a truffle farm of 2500 trees persuading black Perigord orbs from the ground. Tom Michaels finds his truffle with the help of his Lagotto Romagnolo dog, these dogs are known for their great noses, I have seen them in all my truffle producing areas.
The black truffle is one of nature’s gems and the white Alba truffle is more likely a Christmas present that should be shaved raw on pasta, risotto or polenta.
La Pomme au Caramel a la Truffe from Chef Pierre Martres
(as seen above)
4 golden apples
1 cup sugar
1.5 oz. truffle Melanosporum microplaned
14 Tsp. butter
Few drops of water