My friend George has developed a truffle obsession: ITOS – Irreversible Truffle Obsession Syndrome. He is a man who is a slave to the power of the truffle. He isn’t the first person to suffer from this condition and once smitten, those afflicted will go to amazing lengths to reproduce the hit they got from this legendary fungus.
Once you’ve experienced truffle, I mean a proper one not some kind of imposter, there is no mistaking its distinctive aroma. Even if truffles are not to your taste, the intoxicating headiness they unleash is unmistakeable. They are unique, commanding your attention like an experienced dominatrix who immediately demands respect and has little regard for the fickleness of your willpower or fragility of your flesh.
For George, his truffle epiphany started in Germany a couple of years ago when he was visiting Essen, a large city on the Ruhr River. George was in town on a business trip and one evening ordered a pasta dish with white Italian truffle and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese.
Even though his expectations were high, he was naturally worried about the folly of ordering a quintessentially Italian dish in the industrial heartland of Germany. However, the restaurant had a great reputation and it, and the truffle dish, had been highly recommended by some knowledgeable locals.
George was not disappointed at all and in fact rates it as the greatest dish he has ever consumed. When you hear him relate the details of his encounter with the legendary fungus you a transported to the table with him, engrossed by the passion of a man who has experienced the ultimate culinary experience.
The freshly made angel hair pasta is briefly dunked in boiling water, a minute at the most, and quickly drained. The hot pasta is then tumbled into a huge, hollowed out wheel of Parmigiano Reggiano, one of those 38 kg monsters. The outer crust resembles a huge cooking pot. The pasta is delicately swirled around the sides of this giant bowl. The hot pasta melts the inside layer of cheese leaving a fine glossy coating clinging to the pasta.
The pasta is transferred to a serving bowl and a white Italian truffle finely shaved over the top. The steaming pasta warms the truffle enhancing its heady aroma which consumes the room. Pity anyone else in the restaurant not indulging in the truffle experience.
George has Italian heritage and so unsurprisingly has a keen interest in food and especially the food of his parents’ homeland. George also has a great palate and is an excellent cook himself. He relentlessly sources great produce and is something of a cheese expert: amongst our friends he is known as the Cheese Master.
He has recently spent a lot of time effort and money attempting to recreate that dish he enjoyed in Essen. He’s used several types of pasta and different types of truffle in a variety of forms.
George is getting close but is honest enough to know he’s not there yet. It is of course hard to replicate a dish from a half a world away. Trying to source outstanding produce, especially truffles is extremely difficult.
I must admit to be being the beneficiary of George’s efforts as I have the pleasure of sampling his efforts. My job has been to supply a suitable wine and that has been great fun and very instructive.
Few people experience the wonders of real truffle. They are expensive and so many people try “cheap” ones or truffle alternatives with disappointing results. Or they try what they are told is a “truffle” dish but what has really been made with truffle substitutes or truffle oil, truly a blight on the culinary world.
George’s efforts to replicate a dish he tasted a couple of years ago, has prompted me to write a series of posts on the power of the truffle.
So over the next couple of weeks I will give you my take on what truffles are all about, relate some of my most memorable truffle experiences, review a great truffle restaurant and detail which wines compliment truffles.
I’m sure truffle lovers will be interested and hopefully add their thoughts in the comments area. If you haven’t experienced a wonderful truffle, or been disappointed, perhaps I can entice you to try again.