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How to Hunt for and Eat White Truffles
OF TRUFFLES, DOGS, EGGS AND NOODLES
The Roero region is, with Langhe and Monferrato, where the precious white truffle, the “Tuber Magnatum Pico” or “Tartufo d’Alba”, is found.
Truffles are subterranean fungi which grow only in close association with trees. Their strong smell has been appreciated for centuries, and has delighted the tables of royalty, high prelates and people rich enough to be able to afford this delicacy. These include Churchill, the English Prime Minister during world War II, Ronald Reagan, the President of the US of A, and, in retrospect, the one guy responsible for the financial crash of 2008, Marilyn Monroe, an American idol and actress, and Valeria Marini, a less known Italian actress. It can cost up to six thousand Euros per Kilograms. One of the biggest ever found, if not the biggest, weighted a little more than one Kilo and was fetched by a London restaurateurs for US$ 52,000: the news was reported by ANSA, the Italian news agency, the 22nd of November 1954.
This was a monster of a truffle.
The vast majority found today weight between ten and forty grams. Twenty grams of the thing, cut in very fine slices, will properly smother your eggs, sunny side up.
Although it grows all year round in symbiosis with the roots of oaks, hazels, poplars or beeches, it is ripe, and at its best, from the middle of October until the end of January. This is when men and dogs roam the woods of “Le Rocche”, or the woods of Vezza d’Alba, day and night, in search of the precious fungi.
Truffles are very smelly when ripe. Their smell permeates the ground around which they grow to finally reach the surface. Trained dogs can smell the presence of the delicacy, which can be fifty centimetres or more underground, locate them precisely, and dig them out.
There is no particular breed of dogs which is deemed best for truffle hunting: any dog curious enough to wanting to play with its trainer will become a good hunter of truffles. Dogs are trained when young by hiding small pieces of truffle which they need to smell and find. Each time they succeed they are rewarded, generally with a croquette or anything else edible to them. It may take up to three months to properly train a dog.
Hunting for truffles is a man and dog affair, where the man constantly prods the dog to search for truffles in places where he knows there must be some, to then briskly walk away to other such places where the dog is prodded again.
The dog must be constantly prodded to look for truffles: otherwise it would rather mark the area as his, by pissing on top of other dogs’ piss: but since there would be no reward for pissing around it ultimately spends most of its time looking for truffles. When a truffle is ripe a good dog will smell it: it will then start digging it out, ferociously, with both of its paws. This is when the truffle hunter will call the dog back, and dig the ground himself with a small spoon-like tool, carefully scraping the dirt around the place where the truffle should be, very attentive not to damage the fungi. Once the truffle is dug out it is stored in a special pouch, a small leather bag held around the chest, and the dog is rewarded for having done a good job. A truffle hunting excursion may last all night: the man will walk up to fifteen kilometres, and the dogs at least trice that.
Two important things must be said about truffle hunting. The first one is that no truffle hunting dog will ever get fat hunting truffles.
The second one is that truffle hunting is done mostly at night not because it is easier to keep secret the places where truffle are found from other hunters, but because a “trifulau” generally has a full time job keeping him busy in daylight.
The truffle hunter is called “trifulau” in the local dialect, and a truffle is a “trifula”.
White truffles are sliced over eggs, sunny side up or easy over, Carpaccio of veal, and pasta: anything, really, which taste and smell is delicate enough so as to enhance the smell and taste of the white tuber.
Here’s two simple recipes that can be prepared by anybody.
“Uova al Tartufo Bianco” (White truffles with eggs) - for 4 people
Ingredients: 30 grams of white truffles, 4 eggs, butter.
Preparation: store the raw eggs and the white truffles, wrapped in a paper towel, in a glass jar and close tight. Put the jar in the fridge and leave for at least 2 hours (an overnight is better). Fry the eggs in butter either sunny side up or over easy. The raw eggs will have absorbed the smell of the truffle. Keep the truffle for the pasta you will be serving later.
Served: as an appetizer, right away, with Arneis.
“Tajarin al Tartufo Bianco” (Noodles with White truffles) - for 4 people
Ingredients: 500 grams of “Tajarin”, NOT spaghetti, nor SPAGHETTINI: “Tajarin”, the 30 grams of truffles you saved from the recipe above, 30 grams of butter.
Preparation: Bring a pot of water to boil and salt it (the right quantity of salt will immediately stop, for a few second, the water from boiling). Add the pasta and stir to prevent clumps. Keep boiling for the recommended time, generally 3 minutes, and check that the “taiarin” are al dente. While the “tajarin” are cooking melt the butter on a frying pan. Drain the “tajarin” then pour them in the frying pan and cook for a few seconds while stirring. Serve the “tajarin”, then use a mandolin to shave the truffle on top of the dish.
Served: as an entrée, right away, with Arneis or Barbera d’Alba
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