Every year, my wife Lisa and I host a white truffle dinner for six of our close friends where we explore the sensational marriage between white truffles and older Barolo wines. I am always reluctant to post about white truffles because their price is so extravagant and it sometimes feels a bit elitist, but this year is different – they are cheap (well, cheap for white truffles) and most food lovers can afford a self-indulgent splurge to end 2018 in style.
ISO: SEXY WHITE TRUFFLES
This is the absolute best season for white truffles that I have seen in my 30-year career as chef and lover/eater of all things delicious. It’s in sharp contrast of last year when Italy was plagued with massive droughts and truffle shortages which caused the white truffle market to skyrocket into obscene prices hovering around the $5,000/pound stratosphere. This year, not only is the quality one hundred times better, but prices are about 20% of what they were last year and they keep going down. Now is time to take the leap and try preparing white truffles at home.
I should mention, as a disclaimer, that I do sell white truffles (and black winter truffles, black fall truffles, etc.) for a living, and yes, you can buy truffles directly from me if you wish.
It’s so hard not to sound ‘first-worldly’ when 15 times a day I catch myself saying to a chef “they are so cheap this year.” As if something priced $920/pound could ever remotely be considered cheap. Yes, they are still very expensive and certainly not something you are going to shave over your eggs for breakfast every morning. But if you were ever curious or wanted to serve white truffles at home – this is the year to do it.
THE WHITE TRUFFLE RULES
So you’ve taken the giant leap and forked out a few hundred dollars for an enormous white truffle. Now you are wondering how to properly store, cook, and even what wine to serve to maximize your truffle dollar. Pour yourself a giant glass of a Barolo and let me help you out with a few pro-tips that will ensure you get the most for your truffle dollar and have a truffle experience better than you would get in any high-end restaurant.
WHAT TO LOOK FOR
If you are lucky and can hand select your very own truffle, look for very pungent truffles that are hard like potatoes to the touch and are generally blemish free. The color will vary from almost pure white to cream-colored, sometimes there will even be red stains on them. A lot of the truffle color comes from what trees the truffles grew next to. The red stain comes from Linden trees and are highly sought after by truffle aficionados. Avoid soft truffles, clammy truffles, and ones with lots of small holes (generally a sign of worms).
The big day has arrived. A very aromatic FedEx package is sitting on your kitchen counter; your hands are starting to feel clammy and your heart is beating faster than normal. You take another sip of wine and remind yourself you have eaten countless shavings of truffles over the years in high-end restaurants. But today is different; You are the chef and You have a stinky fungus that costs as much as your monthly mortgage sitting on the counter. You glance at the calendar and remember it’s only Wednesday and your party is on Saturday.
My storage recommendations are simple: If you are making a risotto, find a Tupperware container large enough for all the arborio rice you are using in the dish and your white truffle. Put them in the container, close it snuggly, and let it sit in your refrigerator till your party. The same would apply if you are making a simple fonduta or even egg-yolk-rich tagliatelle. Simply put the eggs used in both of those dishes into a Tupperware container and store for a few days. The flavors will penetrate the rice and/or eggs and amplify the truffleness of your dish.
If for some reason you do not want more truffle flavor, wrap your truffle in a clean paper towel and store in a Tupperware container. As the chef, you get the extra treat of opening the container and getting blasted with the incredibly intoxicating fresh scent of truffles. Fresh truffles have a short shelf life so plan on storing no longer than 4 or 5 days if they are absolutely fresh.
COOKING WITH TRUFFLES
The great news for home cooks is that white truffles command a simple preparation to make them shine like the diamonds they are. I have seen more than my fair share of well-intentioned professional chefs kill white truffles with elaborate overpowering preparations. Truffles are best served extremely simple like shaved over buttered fresh egg noodles tossed with just a touch of Parmesan or over a bowl of risotto. In fact, those preparations are preferred. Truffles really shine when there is an element of creamy fat in the form of butter and cheese. Remember a basic truffle rule: white truffle flavor is killed with heat and black winter truffles need heat to accentuate the truffle aromas.
WHICH WINE? THINGS THAT GROW TOGETHER, GO TOGETHER.
In my mind, there really is only one choice – Barolo. I swear you can taste earthy truffle flavors in good Barolos. There is a saying in the restaurant industry: Things that grow together, go together. Barolos are grown and made in the same region where white truffles are found. In their youth, Barolos can be very tannic and hard to drink so you will need to either open and decant your Barolo at least one day before or continue your splurge and find an older Barolo whose tannins have already mellowed somewhat. I usually do a younger Barolo (like 10 years old) and contrast with an older one that is 40 or 50 years old. Assertive, strong flavors need a bold wine to match power for power.
If you want a reliable source for great old wines, contact my friend Ben at Cellarraiders. I must caution you, Ben has an incredible list and soon you will find your paycheck disappearing as boxes and boxes of wine appear on your doorstep.
THREE RECIPES TO GET YOU STARTED
I am going to share three recipes that I make every year to celebrate white truffles. These recipes may be a little looser than perhaps a beginning cook would like, but my speculation is that if you are buying truffles for your home you are already fearless and confident, and not going to be stopped by a recipe with more steps.
Please post your truffle creations with us at #PistouAndPastis – We LOVE seeing them!