On Chasing Truffles

Where to go or how to cook those stinky little gems

 


Sometimes you just can tell it’s not your time. Taking a look at pictures from Piedmont this time of year, those posted on social channels and sent by friends, convinced me that fall, as beautiful as it may be, is not the time for me to be visiting. I’ve been outgunned by the truffle hunters. Not those actual hunters with mud on their rubber boots, but instead those commercial hunters arriving from parts north in the finest Italian coachwork.

My room is taken, and even if it were free would be beyond if not my means, my comfort level. Being comfortable when one travels tends to be a fairly elastic concept. It’s easy to make sacrifices when the next star on the hotel door isn’t worth the extra bits of luxury. That’s what truffles are about of course, luxury, and one that may or may not deliver what it promises. I have found truffles, even in Italy, to be an exercise in random theory. Yet hit or miss, they all roughly cost the same. If you’re going to go after this luxury, you might as well join the Europeans and make plans to be where the truffles can be best, pushing out all the less fortunate visitors as you track down truffles. Here’s a little guide to where that might be and a few truffle recipes  to satisfy those of us who might be stuck at home.

Simple Pasta

Truffles have a delicate flavor and white truffles in particular should never be cooked, but rather only gently warmed after being shaved thinly over your backdrop of choice. If you get a good truffle it really only needs something as simple pasta, rice, or eggs to deliver it’s explosive aromas to every cranny of your mouth. That’s really the purpose of the other ingredient here, to help carry and spread the essence of truffle trapped in it’s oils. Speaking of which, I never use “Truffle” oil, sort of terrible stuff that can’t measure up to the really thing and often tastes worse than a decent olive oil.
 
One of the simplest truffle presentations can be the best. Simply buttered pasta with some parmigiano , topped with those freshly shaved bit of fungal delight. Whip it all together or even take to the next level and add some egg as well, but be sure to use the best pasta, butter, and egg you can find because nothing deserves it like fine truffles. And nothing can take advantage of it any better either. Try truffles with this carbonara recipe, just omit the guanciale and substitute really good butter!
 

Simple Pasta

While all restaurants in Piedmont will be making simple pasta dishes during truffle season, it sort of seems a shame to go to a palace of culinary adventure simply to order expensive truffles over perfectly prepared pasta. Instead I would suggest visiting some of the top Trattorie of the region.
 
My go tos remain the Trattoria Antica Torre in Barbaresco and Trattoria da Bercau, pictured and who have recently upgraded to one very fancy website these are place I love to go to regularly for well priced simple yet soulfully authentic food when I am in the region.
 
In Barbaresco don’t miss a visit to the Produttori del Barbaresco, one of the finest producers not only in Barbaresco, but in all of Piedmont. Ditto for Burlotto in Verduno, which is why you’ll be in Verduno, the visit to Bercau simply icing on the cake, and frankly a good reason to stay in Verduno for a few days while you’re in Piedmont. 
 

Risotto

While I find pasta allows for one of the purest interpretations of truffle essence, risotto help give it some heft, figuratively and literally. It also make truffles easier to pair with wine. Often, wines served with that rich pasta dish can end up feeling pretty thin, and a wine rich enough to parry the food can often overwhelm the nuance of truffles. Risotto changes the dynamic and invites a whole host of wines to help showcase the earthy truffle.
 
 
Earthy wines have that natural bridge flavor bridge with the truffle,  a real affinity. Some even veer off into the mushroomy and truflly end ofthe spectrum but these wines may not be for everyone. To a large extent it’s a question of age. Great Chianti, Rioja, and of course Nebbiolo pair particularly well with truffles and risotto particular. Generally, the older the bottling the less fruit and more earth and even mushroom you’ll find in the glass. I find a nice balance in wines that range from about ten to twenty of age.  
 
 

Muscling risotto

Risotto, with its attendant involvement of one’s extremities is not for the frail or overly skilled. It’s hard work and a well made risotto requires the attention of a loved one. It’s not unusual to find family members staffing a restaurant in its entirety,  and while it’s no guarantee of quality, it is a good indication. 
 
Out roughly in the middle of nowhere, one hour south of Alba where all of Briglia happens to be one can find the entirely familial and charming Trattoria Marsupino, pictured. This is home to soul food, and fabulous cooking. I loved my meal here, it was home cooking at its finest and they even have rooms should you want to dive deeply into their extensive cellar which I would heartily recommend. 
 
Osteria de Gemma, at about half the distance to Briglia gets you far enough outside of the tourist zone to be able to step back in time to a simpler way of life. I’m not sure there’s a truffle on the menu here, yeah right, but if they do have I would be there for their deliciously rustic food and modest but well thought out and priced selection of wines. 
 

Hmm, what’s this?

Truffled Pizza you say? that has an ignominious ring to it, doesn't it? Sure enough this is not a truffle pizza, but rather a truffled pizza, prepped for your enjoyment with truffle oil by a culinary fluffer. And yet this is intriguing. The blend of flavors, the taleggio in particular, a product local enough to be considered local in Piedmont. It’s also creamy, and funky, and one of my favorite cheese. Is this something that must be tried, even with or rather especially with inferior truffles that need some extra lift but please loose the truffle oil. 
 
This also opens up the wine pairing options available to us. This sounds like it would be wonderful with all the usual suspects but think about aged examples of rustic French country wines like Marcillac or Grolleau from the Loire, or some old Musar!  
 

Not in Piedmont

I don’t eat in Pizza in Piedmont, or rather I haven’t had a second pizza in Piedmont. Pizza, unfortunately is my favorite food. As such I tend to investigate the matter at hand perhaps more thoroughly than most. It’s also not on the allowed list of my menu, though that only sometimes stops me from eating a little pasta while in Italy. No, Piedmont has not seemed to be pizza territory and only waste my time on the best pizza. Instead it’s time to start investigating the big guns. the folks who can turn truffles into art, and parking lots into supercar campgrounds.
 
The two top restaurants in the Langhe seem to be Ristorante Bovio , with it’s fabulous terrace view and La Ciau del Tornavento. La Ciau is serious dining, and while it is at the highest level in Piemonte, it requires something of the diner. Some thought and attention. If you’re not willing to pay attention I don’t know that you’ll get your monies worth from some of the most interpretive cuisine in the region. On the other hand Bovio is more about the classics expertly prepared. And there’s that view. 
 
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Comments

  • You are right on regarding the restaurants...but Gemma would have truffles if you called ahead and asked for them...a corner of the world that is still a secret!!!

    Oct 07, 2013 at 2:59 PM


  • You insinuate that a decent olive oil is a bad thing....I cannot tolerate insufferable food snobs such as yourself, Mr. Dal Piaz..

    Oct 07, 2013 at 3:53 PM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
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    I insinuate no such thing, Truffle oil, and not olive oil is what I'm talking about. Calling me a food snob without knowing me does you no favors.

    Gemma is a great place, and not one for food snobs I might add!

    Oct 07, 2013 at 3:59 PM


  • Snooth User: Anna Savino
    Hand of Snooth
    640513 46,137

    I agree with Greg about the truffle oil. The locals here in piemonte say that it is impossible to preserve the truffles for a more than a month or two in the oil, meaning that what you are getting is just cancerous chemical oil.

    I just tried Ciau del Tornavento on Friday and being a vegetarian paid off because I got porcinis and truffles for every dish! Don't forget to mention their unbelievable wine cellar with more than 60,000 bottles of wine and a huge safe!

    Bercau continues to be a favorite of mine too and the owner is a mushroom fanatic!

    Oct 08, 2013 at 3:10 AM


  • Snooth User: loratora
    598383 18

    Although the previous poster misunderstood your meaning, it has been quite fashionable of late for chefs and food experts to malign truffle oil. For those of us who love to cook and love the taste of truffles but cannot afford their price, judicious use of the oil is an acceptable alternative. Restaurateurs who went overboard adding truffle oil to almost everything added to the problem. Once the oil is infused with the truffle essence it isn't necessary to preserve them in it and calling it "cancerous" is a little silly.

    Oct 08, 2013 at 10:45 AM


  • Snooth User: Anna Savino
    Hand of Snooth
    640513 46,137

    forgive me if I offended you but I am just relaying what the italians have told me here. Speaking of truffles though, I think I am going to take Greg up on the risotto tonight! Found 4 white truffles on Sunday. @Loratora come visit me here and I will find them together with you to eat them fresh!:)

    Oct 08, 2013 at 12:40 PM


  • Snooth User: Suylin82
    347984 31

    Thank for all the info, I fell in love with truffle about 5 years ago so any restaurant I go to that has truffle, That's most likely the dish I'm ordering. I also didn't realized that truffle oil isn't all that great as far as preserving the truffle itself. I'd like to research that topic. Thanks Greg!

    Oct 08, 2013 at 12:56 PM


  • I'm from Alba and have many family members who are White Truffle hunters and I totally agree with the mentors..... Anna I'll see you in November, when I'll be in Piemonte, lol...enjoy

    Oct 10, 2013 at 11:29 AM


  • Snooth User: Gregory Dal Piaz
    Hand of Snooth Voice of Snooth
    89065 211,040

    In November I'll be in Trentino and the Veneto. Tougher to find good truffles there!

    Oct 10, 2013 at 11:53 AM


  • Good comments and recommendations, but wish you would also address use of truffles
    in the Montalcino and Nobile di Montepulciano as I will be visiting there in November. Surely Brunellos also pair with truffles dishes.

    Oct 11, 2013 at 4:06 PM


  • Snooth User: loratora
    598383 18

    Anna, rest assured that you didn't offend me. I wished only to represent some of us ordinary folk who don't have the luxury of being able to find white truffles on a given Sunday! And while I'm at it, please pity us here in the states for being deprived of ready access to fresh porcinis. I can only wonder what the purists have to say about using dried. As for your kind invitation - be forewarned! If I'm lucky enough to return to Italy before I'm too old to navigate, I'll certainly take you up on it.

    Oct 19, 2013 at 12:02 PM


  • Snooth User: napagirl68
    Hand of Snooth
    87843 2,679

    Anna and GdP, I am aware of the truffle oil controversy, and it was my understanding that white truffle oil was the one that had to exclusively use the chemicals for the essence. I buy a certain black truffle oil that states:
    "This late fall, early winter truffle is used in the making of this savory oil. A "tea method" is utilized which steeps the ripe truffles for extended periods of time in olive oil. The closely guarded, proprietary process yields our heady, complex Black Truffle oil. No extracts or chemicals are used in its production."

    Am I being lied to? I like this oil, but I don't want to ingest chemicals that give a truffle taste.

    Nov 03, 2013 at 12:13 AM


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