KITCHEN BITCH: The Savoy Truffle

[Photo by bewarenerd] MAVIS LINNEMANN When Doug announced to me that Treasure Island, a local high-end grocery store, was selling a limited number of black truffles —the diamonds of the culinary world—I couldn’t get the idea of buying one out of my head. Truffles are tuber-like fungi (think mushroom) that grow underground on the roots of particular oak trees in Italy, France, Spain, and in some other areas of Europe. Because truffles can’t be seen, specially trained truffle dogs and pigs hunt them out for farmers during the truffle’s very short growing season, which lasts from early December through March, although the truffles are at their peak in January.  While the truffle may look like an ugly duckling, it’s prized for its wonderfully earthy flavor and heady aroma. Its aroma is so strong that it can penetrate eggshells to perfume the egg itself.

Because of their rarity and short growing season, truffles are notoriously expensive, with black truffles from the Perigord area of France and white truffles from Italy being the most costly. Those costs are compounded when the truffles travel overseas, so they go from about $30 an ounce to $300 an ounce, depending on where the truffle comes from. If that doesn’t explain to you how amazingly precious these babies are, check out this new story from last week in which a French farmer murdered a man he thought was truffle rustling on his property.  If you don’t want to throw down a ton of money on one little fungus, you can buy truffle oil at many major supermarkets, specialty stores, and online—and a little oil goes a long way when it comes to giving dishes that truffle flavor.

So after a few days of debating, I called Treasure Island to see if they still had any black truffles left in stock. “We only have one left,” the woman at the store told me, and I immediately asked her to put my name on it. Once I got to the store, it took five employees to find it, but we finally located it in the deli—a weird spot, but I guess Treasure Island wants to keep something that valuable locked in a case.  I paid $57 for a one-ounce truffle, which I believe came from France because of the time of year. The lady at the checkout counter did a double take when she saw the price on the tiny deli container. “I thought it was typo until I saw what it was!” she exclaimed. MORE

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