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Winter truffles

Categories: Product of the week

A luxurious gastronomical treat from Tartufaia

Winter truffles are one of the most luxurious gastronomical treats you can buy. There are entire festivals dedicated to their greatness, and they’re a favourite of many Michelin starred chefs. For most home cooks, they are unlikely to grace the store cupboard on a regular basis. But if ever there was a time to give truffles a try, it’s now: Tartufaia’s supply this year is one of the most abundant they’ve had yet.

“This is our ninth year at the Market, and the last two years have been the best for winter truffles so far. This is due to the hot, long summers we’ve had, followed by a lot of rain,” says owner Mario Prati. This is great news for us—the price of truffles varies widely depending on their scarcity, so at the moment they are extremely well priced. “You only need to use three or four grams, so you can make a truffle-based dish very cheaply at the moment,” Mario explains.

Mario sells both black and white truffles, which differ greatly in both appearance and flavour. “They taste completely different, as they are different species entirely. Even within a species, truffle to truffle, there will be huge variation,” Mario says.

An aphrodisiac
“The white truffle is extremely strong. A lot of people think it has a garlicky flavour, but I actually disagree. It is pheromone-like. Two to three hundred years ago, people used to have truffles in their houses for parties—they thought it was an aphrodisiac, because the smell is so pungent.”

The white truffle—or tuber magnatum pico—is particularly prized due to its rarity, only growing in parts of Italy, Montenegro and Croatia. Tartufaia sources all of its truffles from the Emilia Romagna region of northern Italy.

“There’s this idea that white truffles only grow in the Piedmont region, which is the most famous place for white truffles, but you can get them from all over. People think Alba truffles are the best, when actually they are exactly the same as the ones we find,” Mario explains.

Simplicity is key
White truffle is best eaten raw: Mario suggests keeping it at room temperature and shaving it on top of dishes such as pasta with white creamy sauce, or on risotto with onions, white wine, chicken stock and parmesan. “Simplicity is key: it needs to be quite plain so that you don’t lose the flavour. The important thing is that it has some kind of animal fat to cling to as a vehicle, which is why it works well with butter and cheeses.”

Mario actually prefers the black winter truffle—tuber melanosporum vitt. “It’s not as powerful in scent, but on the palate it is a lot more complex,” he explains. “It has much more depth. You have to cook it, and it’s a little bit trickier to use, but I definitely prefer it.”

Mario particularly likes to serve black winter truffle with soft boiled duck egg. “Open the egg up while it’s hot, then lay a slice of truffle on top so it’s covered and leave it for about 20 seconds. It’s one of the best breakfasts you will ever eat.”