Truffle shuffle

As winter white truffle season approaches, Caterer explores the white truffle’s path from undergrowth to table

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By  Laura Barnes Published  September 1, 2006

|~|truffle2.jpg|~|Chef Leonardo Concezzi will be using winter white truffle to create traditional as well as modern dishes this season|~|Known as the chef’s diamond, tuber magnatum pico — winter white truffle — is one of the most prized possessions in a chef’s kitchen during October to December. Although 80% of winter white truffle is made up of water, just 1kg costs around AED10,000 (US $2700), and this is just the starting price. With the majority of winter white truffle sourced from Alba, Piedmont is not the only region where white truffle can be sourced; with Umbria, Tuscany and the Marches also key locations. “Most people think white truffle is just from Italy, but it can also be found in France as well. However, whether a place has a good crop depends upon the climate, as such, this season should be good for Tuscany, Umbria and the Marches, as they had plenty of rain in March and April,” comments Leonardo Concezzi, executive sous chef, Jumeirah Beach Hotel. But what makes winter white truffle so expensive is down to a number of factors, primarily the fact that trying to cultivate the product is practically impossible. Found near the roots of certain trees — in particular oak trees — the truffle grows between 10-20cm under ground, and as such, the traditional method of using animals to find the truffles is still used today. Traditionally using pigs, truffle hunters now train dogs to find winter white truffles, as they are less likely to damage the ingredient than a pig. However, truffle hunters have to make sure that the dogs do not scratch the product, as this devalues it immensely. Chef Leonardo, who tries to return to Italy every year to help his father search for truffle, says there are a number of ways to find the ever-elusive truffle. “Finding a large white truffle can be difficult, so if you find 500g in one night, that is a good night’s work,” comments chef Leonardo. “However, the best way to find winter white truffle is to search at night time under a full moon and blue sky as this enhances the scent of the white truffle. Truffle hunting is a serious business; there are large quantities of money involved,” he adds. As the popularity of truffle rises, with Middle East Trading importing 40kg last year compared to 3kg three years ago, Gianvito Bona, area manager, Middle East Trading, is hoping to sell up to 60kg this season. “A lot more hotels are wanting to serve winter white truffle, we are now distributing to Bice, Hilton Jumeirah, the Burj Al Arab, Grand Hyatt, Emirates Palace and Jumeirah Beach Hotel, among others,” says Bona. But as the popularity for winter white truffle has increased, so the search for the chef’s diamond has also intensified. As such, compared to 20 years ago, the growing field for truffle has decreased by around 50%, in part due to hunters not respecting the land. “You now have to have a special licence to hunt for winter white truffle, because in the past people would unearth too much soil meaning truffle would be unable to grow. This is why dogs are now used instead of pigs, as they were ruining the area,” says chef Leonardo. Using winter white truffle Because of the intense flavour of tuber magnatum pico, the truffle should be used alongside subtle ingredients, like pasta, carpaccio and white cannelloni beans. However, the more traditional way of serving white truffle is with eggs. “It is a great aphrodisiac, so serving it over eggs for breakfast is ideal. When used in the right way it creates a perfect symphony,” says Giovanni Russo, chef de cuisine, Porcini, The Ritz-Carlton, Doha. Despite the more traditional way of serving white truffle, chefs are looking at more creative ways to use it, as well as a number of promotional events to market the ingredient to its key customers. “The white truffle is our diamond, so as a chef you want to use it as much as you can. For the past ten years I have done some sort of promotion, and this year we will have a truffle week. It can only be used once a year so you want to do the best you can with it,” comments chef Giovanni. Costing just under $3000 per kilo, chef Giovanni says that if you purchase white truffle, you have to ensure that customers are willing to pay for it; and promotions are an ideal way of making the customer aware. ||**|||~||~||~|This year the Jumeirah Beach Hotel for example, will be holding a gala dinner centred on the white truffle, with a satellite auction including bidders from New York, London, and Alba. However, throughout the season Carnevale restaurant will be featuring a series of menus incorporating winter white truffle. “We will have classic recipes including carpaccio with shavings of white truffle, and tagliatelle with white truffle. However, we will also be introducing a creative menu. With white truffle being used with seafood like scallops, langoustines and lobster, as well as creating a white truffle ice cream,” says chef Leonardo. However, due to the short shelf life of white truffle, and the demands of customers, there is not a lot of money to be made from including winter white truffle on the menu. “Once the surface of the truffle has been tampered with, then it will not last more than a week. However, you cannot afford to have any wastage because it is a diamond. If you don’t use it on a dish, then you make a sauce with it or an olive oil, as every last gram is like a religion,” comments chef Giovanni. “Additionally, there are limited suppliers in the Middle East region, so compared to Europe, making a profit from winter white truffle in Qatar is considerably less,” he warns. Chef Leonardo also agrees with this, and although the price of truffle varies depending on the daily market price dictated by the daily auction in Alba, white truffle is not used as a way to increase revenue. “You cannot overcharge a diner because they know how much it costs, however, using truffle is a way of offering regular guests that something special; it is not about making money. In fact, the only people who make money from the truffle industry are the people who find it,” says chef Leonardo. Making an average profit of 18-20%, because of the shape and size of truffle around 20% is wastage. To counteract this though, chef Leonardo uses the remainder to make pasta, olive oil, and even cheese. The storing process Once collected, one of the more traditional ways of storing white truffle is to place it in an airtight container with rice. As truffles are 80% water, the rice helps to take away the moisture and retain the flavour. White truffles should also come wrapped in tissue paper, which is changed each day. “Storage is vital when it comes to white truffle. As soon as the truffle has been dug out of the ground its intensity and flavour begins to deteriorate. It takes about two days for truffles to arrive from Europe, so as soon as they are delivered we send it to the hotel that same day, as if it is stored in a refrigerator it loses 1-2g in weight every day,” warns Bona. Ideally, a white truffle should not be washed or cleaned until it is ready to be used, something that Middle East Trading ensures does not happen to any of the truffles that it imports. “We use Middle East Trading as they are able to fly the white truffle direct, which is paramount. Also, up until the last minute the truffle should be left as it was found in order to maintain the shelf life,” says chef Leonardo. “No matter what you do with the winter white truffle, once you have washed it and sliced it, you have to use it immediately; it is as simple as that,” he adds.||**||

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