Stalking the Single White Truffle

Categories: Featured, Sietsema

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A couple of weeks ago, desperate for a taste of Central Italy, I bought a black summer truffle at Buon Italia, and scrambled it up with some free-range eggs. I found the taste somewhat disappointing, mild and flinty, though the bargain price of $10 hadn't been horribly expensive, and it had been a thrill to hold the specimen in my hand. But a few days later, I spied a jar of the more-highly-priced white truffles in the same store, with what looked like an astonishingly expensive price tag: $2,320.00 per pound!

The white truffle, also known as the Alba truffle, is the most highly prized truffle in the world. The truffle represents the fruiting body of a fungus called Tuber magnatum, which is found only in the northern reaches of Italy. It represents something of a holy grail of gastronomy, with a flavor that is earthy, pungent, and delicate all at the same time. While hiking near Rivergaro in northern Italy one day, I'd smelled one of these truffles that was still undergound, and had begun to dig for it like a dog.

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Even though the price tag seemed astronomical, a quick calculation revealed that a single white truffle would cost slightly over $100. Of course, even when you pay extra in a fancy restaurant for white truffle, you only get a shaving or two, so having an entire white truffle at my disposal seemed too grandiose to contemplate, and way too expensive, even for an orgasmic culinary treat.

But if I could organize a group of subscribers, it might just be do-able. Accordingly, yesterday I formed a syndicate consisting of myself and three friends, and we split the cost of a single white truffle. It set us back $116, which works out to $29 per person. I also bought a quarter kilogram of the best northern Italian butter, which comes from the same cows whose milk is used to make gorgonzola. A bicycle ride to Raffetto's yielded a pound of freshly made fettucine. (As with any sort of truffle, your options for eating it are extremely limited, since you want to create a perfect showcase for the tuber. Garlic or other strong flavorings are entirely out of the question.)

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