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The Road to Hell Is Paved With Truffles

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My Parmesan-White Truffle sauce's hit-me-back flavor turned me into a truffle-hunting pig worthy of a glutton in Hieronymus Bosch's Hell.

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Many wonderful things are found below the earth. Some, like potatoes, are mundane and familiar to all. Others are extremely rare and most people cross their life without ever seeing one. Such is the white truffle, a unique plant that will attract people from across the world to smell its divine fragrance. The truffle itself is not really the plant - just its sexual organ. It releases a godly smell that permeates the earth until it finds the nostrils of a pig that will dig her out and help spread the spores. This truffle dragged me into the Third Circle of Hell - the circle of the gluttons.

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Two pounds of these mushrooms will buy you a nice car. But hurry, truffles soon lose their flavor and within three or four days all you'll get for it is a bus ticket. I have seen chefs store their truffles in a safe built in their fridges. In France, where they produce the humbler black truffle, the poor relation in the truffle family, every year truffle gatherers are robbed at gunpoint or their modest warehouses burglarized.

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Prepare a clean workspace fit for administering the last rites to this unique gift from nature. It is a privilege for any home chef to work once with this legendary ingredient, so honor him with an elegant setup.

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One never washes mushroom. Even Steven Spielberg knows this, as you can see in his movie Munich. You remove the dirt with a clean mushroom brush, then wipe them with a wet towel.

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The quality of a truffle can be told by the clean aspect and good contrast of the veins inside the mushroom. When you buy the truffle, it is imperative you check that. Mine come from Philippe Rochat's own stock. He is Switzerland's top chef and he only gets top quality truffles, so this test is superfluous. But I have been offered poor quality of truffles at inflated prices in various prestigious shops and it is my duty to warn you. When it comes to truffle quality, when there is a doubt, there is no doubt.

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The days when chefs discarded truffle peel are gone. At almost 10,000 dollars a kilogram, quality white truffle are eaten down to the last speck of dust. In fine establishment and in my home, the truffle peel infuses the sauce and is then filtered out.

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In restaurants truffles are usually shaved right in front of you over the finished dish. But if the goal is to flavor sauce, you need to finely dice the truffle, which can be done with a sharp knife. No need for fancy mandolines today. Thinly slice the truffle...

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... then cut the slices crosswise like a julienne...

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... and finally crosswise again in little cubes. I know you will achieve more regular cubes than I did.

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Heat a glass of milk with a glass of cream, then mix a cup of freshly grated Parmesan into the cream (photo). Prepare a roux by heating 2 tbsp flour with 2 tbsp butter until both are intimately mixed, then add the roux to the Parmesan cream. Take the pan off the heat lest the subtle truffle flavor vaporizes and is sucked up the sky through your kitchen vent. Mix the diced truffles into the cream.

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I prepared gnocchis by washing then boiling and peeling waxy potatoes before pureeing them...

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... and mixing with an egg and just enough flour for the gnocchis to hold together.

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Let the gnocchis gently slip into the boiling water, swim for a minute before fishing them out with a slotted spoon.

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The extraordinary truffle-parmesan cream transformed my humble, earthy gnocchis into a heavenly dish. Gosh, you could live to be 300 years old and not eat such as sauce again! The hit-me-back flavor kept me going back to the kitchen all night, first to lick the spoon, then the plates and finally the saucepan itself. Finally my reptilian brain just took command turning me into a truffle-hunting pig worthy of the gluttoons in Hieronymus Bosch's Hell. Only difference is that I could get to the truffles whereas they are stuck in eternal want.

I hope you have the chance to cook a white truffle one day. Perhaps you can't find them where you life or they are prohibitively priced right now, but a day will come when you'll be able to get one. If heaven exists they must grow truffles like houseplants. But who knows, one day we might be able to grow them commercially here on earth?

Published 23/01/2008
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29 Comments

  • #1
  • Comment by Ben
  • on: 23/01/2008
FX: Your descriptions are so vivid I'm imagining the smell of the truffle sauce emanating from my computer screen...
  • #2
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 23/01/2008
Ben please do not let your reptilian brain take over and start licking your screen for truffle emanations!
  • #3
  • Comment by Ben
  • on: 23/01/2008
I'll try! My screen's just been cleaned so it smells of apples now...Anyway, would you know of the best French Onion Soup recipe? I'm getting quite disheartened by some of the recipes out there that never turn out as good as they proclaim.
  • #4
  • Comment by TaratheFoodie
  • on: 23/01/2008
OMG, that looks so decadent.  So sinful!  I've never worked with truffles before, but I hope to one day.  I use truffle oil for now to learn what foods and dishes I like to use it in.  
  • #5
  • Comment by Callipygia
  • on: 23/01/2008
How much of that truffle did you use for your sauce? Also since you occupy the third level of hell, does this mean that other diners do not get to partake in this otherworldly sauce? I might find it also hard to share...
  • #6
  • Comment by athena
  • on: 23/01/2008
Tomorrow morning, I am going to sell my car and invest in white truffles!
  • #7
  • Comment by Lyra
  • on: 25/01/2008
Wow that sounds heavenly. I'm going to need to buy a plane ticket to Switzerland and visit just so I can try some of these delicacies. And Hieronymus Bosch! I saw his famous triptych in 2002, and it was truly ghastly, once you look at the details. But I have faith in you FX, you won't descend to such gluttonous waste.
  • #8
  • Comment by susan
  • on: 26/01/2008
omg you are killing me with this post! This sounds and looks amazing. Great photos. I dream of the day i'll get to buy and cook with a beautiful white truffle.
  • #9
  • Comment by Rachel
  • on: 26/01/2008
Unbelievable!  But have you considered using baked potatoes and no egg for your gnocchi?  They will be much lighter.
  • #10
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 28/01/2008
Rachel most of the calories in this dish come from the butter, cream and parmesan. The 70gr-egg does not add much to the calorie bill. But yes, I have eaten heavenly boiled potatoes in truffle cream at Terre de Truffe in Paris. If I do this again, I would much rather have this than these large gnocchis.
  • #11
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 28/01/2008
Susan I recommend you try and buy one white truffle once in your life if you have the opportunity, even a tiny one is something you'll never forget!
  • #12
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 28/01/2008
If you come to Europe for truffles you should visit Alba in Northern Italy, they have fresher and cheaper truffles than we get in Switzerland! I hope I won't be included as a participant in Hieronymus Bosch's third panel - all they ever get is look at them truffles!
  • #13
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 28/01/2008
Athena, keep your car and remember that white truffles do not increase in values with time, quite the contrary! Thanks for your visit. Do you get wild truffles in Greece?
  • #14
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 28/01/2008
Callipygia, you can use as much truffle as you can afford on any one dish. Restaurant chefs need to account the exact quantity per guest down to the gram, but it is hard not to get carried away when cooking for yourself. Alas, you are right, down here in the Third Circle of Hell all we get is to look at the truffles - this is my 'tantalising' predicament!
  • #15
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 28/01/2008
Tara truffle oil is indeed a delicious ingredient and it stores the truffle flavor rather efficiently! When you'll buy your first truffle be demanding and don't buy it if you have any doubt. If it doesn't smell in the shop, it won't smell in your kitchen.
  • #16
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 28/01/2008
Ben, onion soup is definitely more affordable than truffles although it requires a lot of work. You can try with the recipe in Brian Glover's book about onion cookery. Good luck!
  • #17
  • Comment by Rachel
  • on: 28/01/2008
Heaven forbid that I be accused of being calorie conscious!  I meant lighter in texture.  Gnocchi made with baked starchy potatoes and no egg have a lovely, light texture.  I believe that it is the protein in the egg that is the culprit.  
  • #18
  • Comment by athena
  • on: 28/01/2008
Actually, there are wild  truffles in our forests in the North of Greece, but these  end up mostly in the locals' tables. The few shops that sell fresh cultivated black truffles run out of stock quickly and they don't carry WHITE truffles. So,I usually make do  with  tiny jars of white ones preserved in oil or brine, which cost a lot and have a more discreet odour. That's why I joked about trading my car for them! PS.I've never tried truffle oil. Does the smell last as long the oil ?
  • #19
  • Comment by dan
  • on: 01/02/2008
So how much is ONE trufle? Should I sell a tire?
  • #20
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 02/02/2008
Dan, a white truffle will cost you more than a second-hand tire. More like 4 brand-new tires plus installation!
  • #21
  • Comment by acediac
  • on: 21/02/2008
I haven't the access to, nor the money to buy fresh truffles. I've actually never had any dishes with truffle yet. Someday, though. But other than this I have no idea of what preparation to use. One question though... Since truffles are supposedly so aromatic, would you really need an entire truffle for a recipe such as this?Just remember though, with truffle oil, you're not getting real truffles for flavoring, just a hydrocarbon called 2,4-Dithiapentane.
  • #22
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 23/02/2008
Acediac, truffles are like sex and bandwidth. Only too much is enough.
I wanted one this year so badly. But I heard the crop was not so good which drove up the price - plus with the pitiful dollar - they were about $350 an ounce. I almost did it but then instead bought a black perigord which had no scent when it arrived, but luckily I was credited from the purveyor. I realize there is no comparison between the two, but I decided to start there as I was also buying a whole foie and a few other things. The oil, although perhaps a fake is a staple in my home. I use it often on a poached egg atop some toast. Perhaps next season...and I so loved your comment before this one.  I am quite sure I'd be in total agreement although I care only so much about bandwith...
  • #24
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 18/03/2008
Claudia, thanks for sharing your experiences in truffles! Do not let the ruined black truffle detract you from trying again. The best source is a local gastronomic restaurant. The more truffles they buy from their local purveyors, the better the prices they get, so they have an incentive to sell you one. Even a tiny, tiny good white truffle is worth it!
  • #25
  • Comment by ND
  • on: 04/06/2008
Hi FX! I bought a little bottle of white truffle olive oil today, and I must admit that the smell and flavour were quite surprising… I've read that these truffles produce the same scent as a male pig's sex pheromones, and although the flavour does have a kind of garlicky bite to it (to my uneducated palate, LOL), that musky smell and taste really remind me of a sweaty, grimy hog (or, at least, the taste is very reminiscent of pork—I was expecting an earthy, mushroomy kind of taste)! Did you find truffles to be an acquired taste, or is it just me? On a side note, I followed one of the links on this site the other day to a company in England that seems to have achieved consistent success in cultivating black truffles—you can even buy little Oak and Hazel trees, which they guarantee will yield truffles on the rootstock. What's your view on this?

-Thanks!
  • #26
  • Answered by fx
  • on: 04/06/2008
Nathan, every morning I spend an hour kneeling in prayer in my kitchen in the hope that mankind will master truffle cultivation during my lifetime. Your truffle oil might be rancid, I've seen that a few times. But on the other hand, there could be a deeper problem. Truffle aroma is not fully perceived by all - some people don't sense at all at least one molecule that makes up its scent. Perhaps they are destined to be more virtuous?
  • #27
  • Comment by Tin Tin
  • on: 04/08/2009
Oh my god! I've been reading your blog for some time now, and trying out a few of the dishes with, uh, various degrees of success...but this white truffle concoction DOES look heavenly! Congrats on knowing such amazing recipes and being brave/foolhardy enough to try them out in your home.

Anyway, I'm going to Italy with family and a tour group tomorrow for nine days. Being an amateur dessert/patisserie maker and gastronomic trier-outer (I know, my vocabulary is lacking) I was wondering, are there any quality restaurants/shops that you know of that are not widely known? I am hoping to buy some ingredients but I don't know if food is allowed back on airplanes? We will be visiting major tourist attractions and such. Hopefully you can give me some advice!

Thanks, and once again, your blog is absolutely terrific! where else can I learn how to deep-fry candy bars the traditional scottish way?
-luff, God
  • #28
  • Comment by Rowan Boyle
  • on: 11/01/2010
Kia Ora Fx!!
I have just discovered your amazing website, and I have to say that I am completely addicted already! I just read your article "the road to hell is paved with truffles" I have always wondered what the heck these little nuggets are exactly, so I just did a bit of websurfing.In your last sentance you were contemplating a world where Truffles can be harvested..... Just read on the website practicallyedible.com that trees are being planted with truffle spores on their roots. In approximately 7 years the first truffle is harvested, and you can go on to harvest for at least 15 years, and up tp 30 years. Hmmmm, could prove to be a rather lucrative buisness methinks!
  • FX's answer→ Rowan, I know it sounds like money with no work, but if you take into account 7 years waiting with the proper piece of land at your disposal, and no certainty of proper truffles in the end, I don't think you'd get rich with this. The guy who will get rich is the one who can grow them indoors in a controlled environment.


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