Only pigs and apparently one canine breed Lagotto Romagnolo can be trained to sniff out these underground gems. But let alone the animals, even their owners cannot afford to keep and consume the truffles that their trusted pets sniff out for them from the forests. So expensive are truffles that finders are seldom keepers.
No wonder then that truffles have been called the diamonds of the kitchen. As chef Alessandro Becchini at Taj Lands End’s much talked-about new restaurant Maritime by San Lorenzo tells us, a kilo of white truffle he imported recently, cost him almost R5 lakh. No wonder a truffle meal calls for a celebration.
“We use a mere two or three grams of truffle slices in a dish and, trust me, it can make a pasta or a steak explode into a variety of aromas, making every fork-stab an eagerly awaited ritual,” chef Becchini tells us as we await the arrival of his special Scaloppine Valdostana — veal cutlets, in white wine sauce, melted Emmenthal cheese with white truffle shavings. When it does arrive, the aroma greets me way before I pick up my fork. And indeed, as I chew my first mouthful, the powerful and succulent scent of the truffle completely takes over.
The Tagliolini Albese, a home-made fresh thin fettuccine, in butter and parmesan cheese sauce, topped with truffle shavings, is another delight. Here the truffles are thinly sliced but not wrapped around as in the case of the veal slices. They hang around, looking almost like tiny, super-thin ham or bacon slices till you roll a slice in your mouth. I am not particularly a truffle fan (maybe I can’t afford to be one) but these two items bowl me over completely.
“In Europe, a truffle is synonymous with celebrations. On special occasions like an anniversary, a birthday or to toast success, people order truffle meals or truffle dishes at restaurants,” the Italian chef ,,who has been working for Lorenzo Bernie’s iconic San Lorenzo restaurant at Knightsbridge for the past decade, tells us.
Even how truffles are added to meals makes for a great story. “In the best Italian restaurants, once you order a dish, the waiter comes with a truffle and weighs it in front of you. He then proceeds to add the shavings to your dish. Once you tell him to stop, he weighs the remaining truffle again and you pay for the meal based on the amount of truffle added to the dish. It’s all very ceremonial and special,” he says.
We are suitably impressed, just as we are with the final offering of the evening the Gelato Raffinato or the truffle- flavoured vanilla ice cream, garnished with truffle shavings. It’s a five-star hotel and in any case a truffle dish will always be an expensive one, but if you have Rs 5,000 to spare for a dish, try one of the dishes we had or even the simpler Porcini e Tartufo the creamy carnaroli rice with procini mushrooms and truffles and we promise you will go home happy.
>> A truffle is the fruiting body of a subterranean fungus. Not all truffles are edible
>> The white truffle is the most sought after by chefs, followed by the black truffle
>> Only two or three grams of truffle slices in a dish are enough for its powerful aroma to come through
>> Most European cuisines extensively use truffles or truffle oil in meats and salads
>> Truffles are so expensive that people who find truffles prefer selling them
>> Only trained pigs and a specific canine breed can sniff out truffles in a forest
>> Italy banned pigs from truffle hunts in 1985 after it was found that female pigs were eating the truffles. It appears they were attracted to a smell that resembled the male pig hormone