Mario Prati on making the most of this highly seasonal and feverishly feted ingredient
Earthy, musty, animalistic, pungent, petrol-like: as descriptors go, the words used to define the taste and smell of white truffle don’t exactly sing out to customers. Nor is its appearance much of a selling point: lumpy, knobbly, smudged with dirt, it looks like something only a gluttonous labrador would consider food. Yet, come October onwards, chefs and food-lovers alike can’t get enough of the Tuber magnatum pico: the white winter truffle which, much like the babe in a manger, has been elevated beyond its wildest imaginings into one of the world’s most feverishly feted foods.
“We get our truffles from the Emilia-Romagna region, in the Apennine hills just south of Modena and Bologna,” says truffle trader Mario Prati of Tartufaia. It’s been a good year, he continues. “The season didn’t start off well, but since November the price has gone down and the quality has gone up and up.” It’s coming to an end now: indeed, there are only a couple of weeks left in which to get your hands on the white stuff, be it the truffle itself or in the form of Mario’s homemade truffle butter, generously studded with slices of the eponymous fungi.
Keep it simple
The latter is, inevitably, considerably cheaper than the former, which varies in price according to availability and how much of it you want—not that you need much, says Mario. “About five to 10 grams per person is enough, depending on the portion size. They are quite strong,” he says, lifting the protective glass dome to allow us a sniff of the truffle’s potent fumes. Indulge as soon as you can: “By the time we get them, two to three days after harvesting, they’ve only a week left of really good flavour, as they lose moisture quickly.”
Simple is best when it comes to serving: “Egg pasta, a risotto, scrambled eggs, omelette—you don’t want too many things going on,” Mario continues. If you’ve opted for Mario’s truffle butter, a wise move if you’re looking to eke out the season as it lasts several weeks longer, use it wherever you’d use butter in the dish. With the fresh truffle, grate it on toward the end of preparation. The only rule when it comes to white winter truffle is to use it in a dish with animal fat, to release its full flavour—and to let the truffle do the talking.