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robert brown

Alba Truffles

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Boy, does that sound weird to me. I've never eaten at Giambelli, nor do I know any serious food lover who has. And why a French chef as ambassador of Piemonte truffles, although Ducasse does have a property there? What does truffle ambassador mean, anyway?

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Boy, does that sound weird to me. I've never eaten at Giambelli, nor do I know any serious food lover who has. And why a French chef as ambassador of Piemonte truffles, although Ducasse does have a property there? What does truffle ambassador mean, anyway?

The ambassador thing is only a sort of recognition for personalities of the food scene who have helped increase knowledge of Alba white truffles throughout the world. In 2003 Wofgang Puck was awarded the same title.

Maybe it's just a way of saying "thanks for spending HUGE amounts of money on Alba truffles" :laugh:


Il Forno: eating, drinking, baking... mostly side effect free. Italian food from an Italian kitchen.

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He is adding to the prestige factor - not that they needed it.


John Sconzo, M.D. aka "docsconz"

"Remember that a very good sardine is always preferable to a not that good lobster."

- Ferran Adria on eGullet 12/16/2004.

Docsconz - Musings on Food and Life

Slow Food Saratoga Region - Co-Founder

Twitter - @docsconz

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Is Ducasse increasing knowledge or revenues?

Increasing the scarce demand fo a divine product which is in vast supply. Or so. :wink:


Edited by Boris_A (log)

Make it as simple as possible, but not simpler.

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Does he have to wear a crown of truffles?

Only if he pays for it. Ever seen a trifolau giving something away for free :wink: ?


Il Forno: eating, drinking, baking... mostly side effect free. Italian food from an Italian kitchen.

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We enjoyed some wonderful tartufi di Alba on Monday night, brought out to us here in South West England by winemaker friends Mario and Luisa Fontana of Cascina Fontana for a 'Festa di San Martino' wine charity dinner I organised with Michael Caines in his signature restaurant here in Exeter.

San Martino is essentially a country festival and we were reviving it in memory of a good Italian friend of ours, a chef and restaurateur with whom we used to enjoy great times together. For the occasion, Mario and Luisa brought out about 200g of tartufi di Alba, fresh out of the ground, very firm, very aromatic, beautiful well shaped tubers that when we held them in our hands connected us directly with Italy, with the Langhe from which they come.

Michael and his chef Simon Dow served them beautifully and simply: with freshly made, fine egg tagliolini, a tiny portion each, dressed with a foamy butter sauce in which some of the grated tartufi had infused together with an infusion of rosmarino. On top, each plate had about 5 or 6 shavings of raw tartufi and Mario went around the room, adding a shaving or two more. The pungent aromas of white truffles on top of the hot pasta filled the entire dining room. It was an absolutely magnificent treat, and for most everybody who was there, the first time they had ever experienced the mythical white truffles from Alba.

It seems to me that the tartufo di Alba is a wonderful paradox. It is discovered by country folk, the trifoli with generations-old knowledge of the land, and with the assistance of trained mongrels - cani bastardi. It is a humble product, literally down-to-earth and from the earth, unprepossessing in appearance, purchased still covered in mud and earth (for cleaning should only take place at the last moment before being used). And yet it is ethereal, it is overpowering, it is unlike anything else on earth.

I like best of all to enjoy tartufi as the trifoli suggest, in the simplest fashion possible, shaved over a platter of fried eggs or over simple pasta, such as Michael prepared (though very elegantly!). It seems somewhat odd to me that something so very humble, so earthy, this strange and mysterious product simply found and dug from the earth, fetches prices so astronomically high that only the very rich can experience it, served sometimes with the most ostentatious ceremony, or weighed out parsimoniously, the electronic scales on the table. And the prices fetched at recent auctions in Alba ($41,000 for a kilo?!!) seem just ridiculous and out of all proportion.

I urge anyone who has the chance to purchase a good quality fresh tartufo di Alba at reasonable cost to do so without a moment's hesitation and simply enjoy this wondrous marvel in the simplest way. The season is brief; life is brief: at some time everyone ought to experience tartufi di Alba!

Marc

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Marco Polo, funny you should mention about tartufi being local contadini type food. Last weekend we went to a tartufo festa in Citta` di Castello, where the best part of the festa was that they had constructed this white tent structure that held in all the tartufo aroma. But, what struck me as I walked around was the clumps of very local people debating the merits of the different truffles that were available. In their wildest dreams they wouldn't spend the kind of money that is being thrown at the 'tartufo d'alba'. Nine times out of ten they have have their own dogs and their own secret haunts. Most of the truffles available at local trattorias come from some guy (always a secret who it is) who goes somewhere secret to get his stash. In our neck of the woods, truffles are still very much a very local secret.

Tell me, is there anything better than opening the pantry and sniffing that tartufo you have ready for dinner that evening??

And yes, simple, humble preparations show off this magical tuber in the best possible manner.

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More recent news from the people at Alba Tartufi (thanks to robert for Forwarding this to me):

"Thanks to a slight increase in truffle amounts and a decrease in demand, the awaited drop in prices for Tartufo Bianco D'Alba has finally taken place. The new prices are (for minimum amounts of 100g): 1400 € pro Kilo for truffles up to 20 g in size, 1900 € between 20-30 g and 2300 € above 30 g. The quality of the product is at the moment optimal."


Il Forno: eating, drinking, baking... mostly side effect free. Italian food from an Italian kitchen.

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Excuse me for being a little slow on the up-take, but what is this business about paying wildly-differing prices depending on the size of the truffle? For as long as I can remember, truffles went for one wholesale price with no regard to size. It sounds like this is the truffle world's equivalent of now calling Russian caviar "Caspian caviar" to cover-up its less-than-impeccable origin. Am I missing something, or is this the (luxury) food world's latest subterfuge for artificially gouging the consumer?

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Excuse me for being a little slow on the up-take, but what is this business about paying wildly-differing prices depending on the size of the truffle?

Hi Robert,

I think the simple answer is that, as in all things, SIZE MATTERS (witness the $41,000 tartufo). I too am surprised to see such a discrepancy in prices based on size. What I would have expected would be a discrepancy in price per kilo based on the individual quality, size, shape, aroma, freshness of each and every tartufo. They are individual objects after all and each is unique and different and probably ought to be priced accordingly.

As regards the 200g of tartufi we had earlier this week, 2 tartufi were around 70 g each, and they were real beauts, nicely shaped, not too knobbly, beautiful to hold in the hand and grate at the table. They were more valuable, more expensive than the other tartufi we had with them. The remaining 60 g consisted of, I can't remember, 3 or 4 marble to walnut sized tartufi, one a little worm eaten, not so pretty, but hard, dense, equally aromatic, equally delicious. We got these for a considerably cheaper price, explained my winemaker friend Mario who brought them out to us, and we used them in the kitchen, to infuse with a butter sauce before dressing the pasta, rather them for grating at the table. The results were nonetheless sensational. So there is definitely a difference between table and kitchen quality tartufi.

The other crucial factor that a buyer must aware of, of course, is freshness. Freshness is all with white truffles. Really fresh-out-of-the-ground tartufi are hard and dense and display an aroma that is incredibly pungent and persistent; as they get older they may begin to get a little mushier, softer, and of course they will also lose some of that wondrous, almost drug-like intensity of aroma.

One would expect the price to drop considerably in such circumstances, each day that a tartufo remains unsold. But I doubt that it ever does such is supply and demand. I expect it is simply a case of buyer beware, and the sellers will still try and get as high a price as they can. And of course as always there have been rumours in the past that not all the tartufi di Alba sold in Alba during the Fiera are in fact even from the hills of the Langhe - dark whispers of tartufi from the Marche or Tuscany or even Slovenia being passed off as the real, the local thing. So who knows?

I've been tempted to buy off the http://www.albatartufi.com/ site, as 100 quid or so does not seem a ridiculous hit for 100 g of tartufi di Alba, if they are genuine, good quality and arrive in good condition. But so far I haven't yet tested the waters. Have you, Robert? I think I'd probably prefer my friend Mario to source them for me, and send them out by courier. Anyone else considered purchasing direct? Moby? I expect as we approach Christmas the prices will only increase.

Marc

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Excuse me for being a little slow on the up-take, but what is this business about paying wildly-differing prices depending on the size of the truffle? For as long as I can remember, truffles went for one wholesale price with no regard to size. It sounds like this is the truffle world's equivalent of now calling Russian caviar "Caspian caviar" to cover-up its less-than-impeccable origin. Am I missing something, or is this the (luxury) food world's latest subterfuge for artificially gouging the consumer?

Robert, it's harder to shave even slices from the smallest white truffles. You can grate them, but you can't get as many slices per gram of whole truffle. I wonder whether this has something to do with the higher per-gram prices of larger truffles...


Jonathan Day

"La cuisine, c'est quand les choses ont le go�t de ce qu'elles sont."

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Marc and Jonathan, thanks for the posts and practical advice. I am hoping to get my truffle fix from one of the Ceretto sons in Alba. I think he'll be fair and reputable. vmilor and I are taking it to a restaurant in Lugano, so it should be a fun evening. Still, though, am I right that this is the first year for truffle pricing of the sort I discussed? My hunch is that we'll see, as implied, Marc, in your post, truffle grading that is akin to what we see in the diamond or gemstone market. What would that do to the integrity in the market place? KInd of weird in a way.

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Marc and Jonathan, thanks for the posts and practical advice. I am hoping to get my truffle fix from one of the Ceretto sons in Alba.

Still, though, am I right that this is the first year for truffle pricing of the sort I discussed?

Hi Robert,

I just wonder if the abnormally hot summer of 2003 could somehow have contributed to this? Could it be that the truffle hunters this year are perhaps finding lots of dinky tartufi of 20g or less that somehow, for whatever reason, have not grown into the larger specimens that Jonathan rightly points are most prized for slicing/grating at the table? And that this preponderance of small tartufi has caused such a discrepancy in prices?

I'm sure the Cerettos will be an impeccable source for you and will be able to answer some of these questions. When will you be in Alba? Don't miss visiting Gennaro's Bar beside the main Duomo church to sample his absolutely incredible gelato di tartufo as well as the equally stunning gelato di Barolo.

Marc


Edited by Marco_Polo (log)

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Marc, that could well be the reason (or a reason). I'll be staying in Isola d'Asti, but plan to stop off in Alba this coming Saturday. vmilor is staying at the Hotel Savona, however. In any event we'll avail myself of your gelato tip. It sounds terrific.

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Robert, it's harder to shave even slices from the smallest white truffles.  You can grate them, but you can't get as many slices per gram of whole truffle. I wonder whether this has something to do with the higher per-gram prices of larger truffles...

According to chef Abraham García, from Viridiana, that's precisely one of the reasons. The second major factor would be the fewer relative amount of waste produced by the cleaning process when you handle the larger specimens.

So, yes, it all comes down to the return which can get the restaurant from shaving truffles of different sizes. After all, we all prefer to have these nice slices of truffle with almost no surface crust rather than small chunks of truffle with a lot of the outside hard crust, don't we? Particularly, when we're dealing with tuber melanosporum or aestivium.

¡Feliz Año, guys!


PedroEspinosa (aka pedro)

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FYI the holiday price of truffles went to 3,000 Euo a kilo where as in November they were 2,500.

Yes larger truffles cost more..easier to work with, harder to find, in more demand.. hence the cost.

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A couple of news on the tax front for truffles in general:

- According to Coldiretti (the Italian Farmers Association) the US will increase taxes on truffles imported from Italy starting March 1st. Other products hit by this should be saffron, rice and olives.

- After years of discussion on the how to account for the income the trifolai, truffle hunters, earn from their sales the Italian Finance Ministry has come up with a solution that has caused quite some stir. The trifolai will be consider only as "occasional sellers" so they will not have to keep a record of their sales but just declare their earnings at the end of the fiscal year. Satisfaction from the trifolai , while others have labeled this as state-authorized tax evasion.


Il Forno: eating, drinking, baking... mostly side effect free. Italian food from an Italian kitchen.

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And why exactly would the US be punishing the truffle exporters? Maybe they don't realize that truffles also come from Italy, not just France....and Italy is part of the 'coalition of the willing'. Good lord.

As far as the tax thing goes...its an elegant, bella figura compromise, don't you think? They are shown on the books as liable for taxes, but no real tax is expected. Saves face all around. So Italian.... :wink:

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