Up until our recent trip to Italy I took the truffle for granted. Yes I loved my truffle fries and think black truffles are quite yummy but did I truly appreciate what a white truffle was? No, no I did not. Then one trip through the Truffle Market in Alba truly rocked my world.
Truffles develop in a cool, damp environment at 10-15cm below ground at 42.8 degrees farenheit. The truffle is typically wrapped around the roots of suitable tree. What you ask is a suitable tree? Well common oak, turkey oak, durmast oak, pubescent oak (yep that’s real), black poplar, white poplar, willow, linden, hop hornbeam and hazelnut are suitable trees. Not only do truffles need a specific tree, at a specific depth, with a specific temperature, but they also need a specific soil type. “Chalky clay, damp with a neutral pH and lacking in organic substances, nitrogen, and phosphorus but rich in potassium.”* Talk about the Goldilocks of the fungi kingdom.
To make matters even more difficult, truffles can only be gathered in certain ways. “The gathering time is decided by the Provincial Administration. Truffle hunters are free to roam through woods and uncultivated ground. They may not gather from private truffle ground and areas which have been wooded for less than 15 years.”* The white truffle while once was searched for by pigs is now searched for by dogs. Taking all of that into consideration paired with the very powerful perfume of the truffle it is no wonder that people once thought that it was a witches food.
Fast forward to my husband and I in Alba, and my husband determined to purchase a truffle. Alba itself is a fascinating city. During the truffle season you are overwhelmed with two very powerful scents mingling in the streets, one is truffle and the other is Nutella (yep Alba is the home of Nutella). The two scents makes for very confusing hunger pains. In the middle of the city, there is this large white tent. Just rounding the corner to the tent you are knocked over by the intense perfume of the truffle, composed of aromas like garlic, hay, wet earth, honey, mushroom and spices. You enter the tent and your eyes become as overwhelmed as your nose. As far as you can see are booths with truffles intermixed with booths containing cheeses, wines, and chocolates. People are meandering around taking in the sights and scents. It is the gastronome’s version of Disneyland.
Kevin carefully went from booth to booth hunting for his perfect truffle. Finally he landed on a unique oblong truffle. From there you take the selected truffle to the truffle judge (yep that’s real too). The truffle judge looks over the specimen for any possible defects. They are looking for unpleasant odors, damage, that holes have not been filled with earth, that it was cleaned properly, and that the truffle is ripe enough. Our truffle passed with high marks, so it was back to the booth to establish a price, take some pictures, and walk out with our loot.
It was a fascinating experience, not only to learn so much about truffles but let me just say…that shit is good.
*all information was from the “Charter of Specific Qualities” flyer handed out at the truffle market.