Not the Chocolate variety…….
Mostra Mercato del Tartufo Bianco a San Miniato
According to Wikipedia a truffle is a fungi fruiting body that develops underground and are usually found in close association with certain trees. Growing harmoniously with oak, hazel, poplar and beech, they fruit in Autumn.
These ugly blobs of fungi are highly prized by many gastronomes and have been held in high esteem since the 18th Century. In Italian they are known as Tartufo, Bianco o Nero, White or Black.
I personally think they are prized more for the fact that they are so difficult to find and not so much for the flavor but many will disagree with me. If you had of given me a dish a few weeks ago and you didn’t tell me that it contained truffles, I honestly don’t think I could have picked out the flavor. That is until I immersed myself in everything Truffle at the recent ‘Mostra Mercato del Tartufo Bianco a San Miniato’ The White Truffle Exhibition at San Miniato. I would now know that particular, slightly gassy smell anywhere. Not that it really bothered me like it does some people – I actually don’t mind it at all and now appreciate the delicate flavour so much more.
The hysteria that surrounds truffles is fascinating as too is the price that they sell for. After doing some research, I found that the most expensive price paid for a single white truffle was US$330,000 for 1.5kg truffle unearthed near Pisa. It was sold in a simultaneous auction in Macau, Hong Kong and Florence with the highest bidder being a casino owner from Macau. And just last week the same sum was paid by the same guy in Macau for a white truffle from Alba, Italy. In the last ten days I have been traveling for work (hence the delay with this post!) and was very interested to see White Truffles from Alba in a New York restaurant and then in the Selfridges food hall in London. These delicacies from the Piemonte region are in high demand in major cities across the world.
Kind of makes you want to run out and train your favorite pooch to sniff out truffles! And it seems that this is just what many people are doing here now. You can enrol your dog in a ‘Corsi di Addestramento del Cane da Tartufi’ Here your dog will learn how to sniff out the precious fungi and also to distinguish different species. You will be trained in ‘Dog Language’ to help you and your canine communicate better while in the field! You both even get a certificate at the end of the course! Truffle hogs used to be used but apparently they would often eat the prized trophy before handing it over to their master.
There are mainly white and black truffles. The White truffle can be found in the Piedimonte region of northern Italy, and most famously in the countryside around the city of Alba. San Miniato is also popular for the white truffle but not in the same quantities as found in Alba.
Due to their high price as well as their pungent taste they are used sparingly. Supplies of truffles can be found commercially in the form of fresh, unadulterated produce or one can purchase them in a preserved form as well. The preserved form of truffles are found typically in light brine.
The White variety of truffles are usually served uncooked and raw. They are shaved over steaming buttered pasta, risotto or different types of salads. White and black paper-thin truffle slices can also be put into meat and right under the skins of roasted chicken. There are a few specialty cheeses that contain truffles, many which were on sale at the Festival.
Apparently though, the majority of truffle oils on the market don’t actually contain any trace of real truffle at all – just a fake synthetic flavoring! And even more surprising is the fact that many chefs have no idea of this fact!
The Black truffle named after the Périgord region of France has the characteristic of growing exclusively with oak. Black truffles are less pungent than their white counterpart. They are also more refined than white truffles and smell more of fresh earth and mushrooms. The scent of the fresh black truffle has even influenced designer Tom Ford who when he released a perfume in 2006, listed black truffle as it’s first note.
The foil containers in the foreground of this photo are prepared Fegatelli which is skewered Pork and pork liver layered with Bay leaves and then prepared in lard. They are cooked in the lard and then removed before serving. The photo below shows them once the lard has melted. I had these for lunch as had never tasted them before and yes, although not the lightest choice on the menu, their taste was absolutely delicious!
The Cinta Senese pigs from the hills around Siena are called as such for the white ‘Cinta /Belt’ around their bellies. They are used to make sausages, prosciutto, salame and lard. Their flavour is more intense and the meat less fatty than the traditional prosciuttos. They are an antique breed from ancient Roman times who was close to extinction at one time. Thanks to the careful breeding in free-range fields of this prized pig, the numbers are now on the rise. The Cinta Senese are the true Tuscan pig!
Despite the rain, we had such a lovely day at the Festival. I learnt so much about this strange delicacy and I would recommend this exhibition of wonderful Tuscan produce to anyone. The best thing too is that it runs over 3 weekends in November so you could visit more than once!
I definitely look forward to returning here next year!