December 31, 2012
Truffles, like caviar, are an acquired taste, but what an acquisition! Both are pungent, heady, and aggressively flavored. Not everyone likes them, and for those humans so afflicted, much money can be saved. With prices of up to $2,000/pound, even minimal consumption makes for a special occasion–a meal requiring time to savor, and a wine that justifies its presence in such distinguished company.
The magic of Perigord, or black winter truffles, is a bouquet and flavor ravenously sought throughout the world. Earthy, musky, and inimitable, truffles are as hard to describe as the enigmatic qualities of pinot noir wine. France, Italy, and Spain are the original sources for these delicacies, once only found growing haphazardly in the wild, sniffed out by sows and dogs, and much more recently cultivated, with limited success, in the same areas. Italy is even more famous for its white (Alba) truffles, which have defied commercial cultivation and can cost three times as much as Perigords.
The wines of France’s upper Rhône district and those of Italy’s Piedmont region are a perfect complement. With vineyards adjacent to where these underground fungi grow, their wines are laden with many flavor components that mirror the truffle’s characteristics, and naturally set off truffle-enhanced food.
I remember seeing white truffles sold at the Saturday open air market in the Piedmont town of Biella. They’re white on the inside, but on the outside they’re ugly, black, irregular spheres, grotesque and dirt-laden. Not very appetizing at first glance. So too, I recall the perfect risotto, garnished with raw white truffles and wile board, cooked together with black truffles, being served at local mountain trattorias. These out-of-the-way inns, inhabited mostly by hunters and locals, are a step back in time and sense of place. And what food! Ideal occasions to drink a fine Barolo or Barbaresco from vineyards located just slightly south of the region.
Many syrahs from American and shiraz from Australia would do very well to drink now as an accompaniment to truffle dishes. They include:
Truffles are said to have “the smell of sex”. Amazingly, scientists have confirmed that they contain a pheromone, a chemical secretion, also found in the makeup of human beings. This makes the legend of truffles’ aphrodisiac qualities all the more believable.
Try white truffles, uncooked, with simple pastas or potato concoctions. Sample winter blacks cooked with scallops or fresh water trout. No matter what the medium, truffles will render their unique message.