Wednesday, November 07, 2007

On the trail of Tuber magnatum pico

Last weekend was a rare treat. I went hunting with my neighbor Michael and a journalist friend from Rome Eric, searching for the precious tuber magnatum pico, or white truffle in the hills below my house in Amandola. A year ago, I learned these pungent aphrodisiacs (or so some claim) can be found in certain wooded sections in the valley around the house, and so I organized a giro with local tartufaii Alberto Mandozzi and Marcello Bianchi. We were hoping to find one or two under an oak or birch tree. Finding one, it seemed, would be the only way we could afford this delicacy this year. Why's that?

Well, I paid last year 30 euros for a 30-gram piece. This year, an equivalent piece could be had for between 150 and 180 euros; an incredibly dry spring and always-high demand have sent prices soaring. As a result, I bought the cheaper, and not nearly as good, black truffle. Set me back 17 euros. As Xtina said again this year, "once you go white, you just can't go back."

How'd we do? We didn't find any, but we were invited to a decadent meal hosted by the local truffle hunters association in Amandola, of which Alberto is president. It was a meal that will not be forgotten: a seven-course marathon, four of which included a healthy helping of white truffle shavings. (Pictured below is la fonduta, a Piemontese soup of several types of cheese coated in white truffles.) At this year's price, the meal would have set anybody back a few hundred euros. Thankfully, it was a BYOT affair. We ate what the association managed to unearth this year. Che fantastico!

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