By Antonio Iacovelli
There’s so much that Italians have gifted to the world of cuisine — from pastas and pizza to creamy mozzarella. However, what we have to thank them for the most, has to be the truffle. Dubbed by many as the caviar of the vegetarian world, this seasonal ingredient is used within the most distinguished menus worldwide.
Truffles grow mainly in Italy and France, as the soil is favourable across both the countrysides. In Italy, Norcia is an excellent region for black truffles while the Alba forests are better for white truffles — largely due to the humidity. After it rains, it’s always good to go out the next day to pick truffles.
But these exotic delights don’t always come cheap. If the weather in Italy is bad, it directly impacts their price. For example, the weather wasn’t the best last week back in Italy, which meant truffles prices were higher than normal. While the price of black truffles was Dh4,500 per kilo, white truffles were more than six times that — yes, if you bought a kilo of white truffles last week, you’d have had to shell out Dh26,000!
While truffles are available all year round, the flavour and prices differ from season to season. Summer truffles are very light in flavour and a lot more affordable — you can purchase them from around Dh500 to Dh1,000 per kilo.
Truffles get darker by the season, and right now we see black autumn truffles which appear brown when sliced. There’s a distinct difference in taste as well — you could say the richest in flavour among the different types of truffles are the blackest versions that come during the winter season between December and the end of January. They do, however, come at a slightly higher price.
Truffles are valuable to us Italians — the gourmet ingredient is not easy to find. There are only two ways to find a truffle and both require the help of animals. They grow in specific spots, but knowing the exact area isn’t enough — they need to be smelt to be found, which is where specially-trained dogs come in to literally sniff out these delicacies. And while mushrooms can be farmed, truffles have to grow in the wild, so it’s important to remember exactly where you picked your truffles from as you’ll need to come back to the same spot the following season.
There’s nothing quite like slicing the top off a truffle and popping it into your mouth raw. One of my favourite truffle dishes, which you can now find on our limited-edition menu at Trattoria Toscana, is risotto layered with truffles — mamma mia! I’m also particularly fond of the bruschetta with wild mushrooms and truffles — this appetiser is also available now at the restaurant and will leave you reaching for piece after piece, so leave your carb worries at the door.
This luxurious Italian delicacy can be used in desserts as well—I remember once tasting a ricotta cheese soufflé where the chef had infused truffles within the dessert and used this flavour laden ingredient as decoration on the top of the dish. A very delicate dish, it was warm and well balanced, and only made better by adding two scoops of vanilla ice cream on the side. Remember, it’s always good to know if your truffles are fresh — stay away from frozen truffles especially when they’re last season’s!
Antonio Lacovelli is head chef at Trattoria Toscana. He enjoys exploring new dining spots with his wife