Return of Wednesday at the Barn
So I’m sitting here wondering what that ancient Sumarian must have thought when a wild pig unearthed that first truffle at his feet. I mean whatever compelled him to pick the thing up, much less consider eating it? The French have a term, jolie laide, usually applied to women, which roughly translates to ugly beautiful ~ a curious attraction one feels for an object which, for all intents and purposes, should repel.
It was the smell, of course, an explosive perfume that makes a direct hit on the senses, earthy, yet transportive. Pigs go wild because the tubers, which only grow underground on the roots of certain trees, emit androstenol, the pig equivalent to a sex pheromone. It may well be ~ as the same pheromone is found in human sweat glands ~ that on some deep level our brains are wired to recognize it as well.
Revered by the early Greeks and Romans who believed lightening and thunder accounted for their mysterious fecundity, the truffle's coveted place in culinary history was firmly established in the 1780’s by the first great food historian/writer/critic Brillat Savarin who anointed them the 'diamonds of the kitchen’ for their magical, umami fragrance. It's a doubly apt description for these subterranean fungi are still often as pricey as jewels.
Skip Lasky is a passionate truffle purveyor, the American face of an international network of truffle hunters that originated in Croatia during the civil war when culinary foresight led his (now) partners to smuggle poplar and oak root truffle scions out of the country. The family planted them in the various countries across Europe as they were repatriated and ten years on, incredibly, most of the host trees are now producing. The American arm of UNDERGROUND Truffle Purveyors is based in Petaluma. They sell an impressive range harvested across Italy, Spain, France, Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Macedonia and soon (according to Skip) Hungary and New Zealand. Though this geographic reach has somewhat extended the Fall window for harvesting them, it hasn’t brought the prices down, which is fair when you consider their fragility and factor in what it costs to get them to SFO ~ Underground promises delivery within 36 hours of their truffles being gently dug out of the soil by specially trained dogs who respond as pigs do to the scent, but don't gobble down the product.
The white truffles ~ Tuber Magnatum Pico, also known as the Alba, made their first appearance in our dining room in November ~ served raw, shaved tableside. They were from the Piedmont region of Italy, and true to their specific terrier held hints of river bed willows and honey.
This week Skip brought in Black winter truffles, Spanish Perigords, and while not as commanding in scent as the white, open up beautifully when warmed, with a delicate flavor that rolls around the palate, confounding the nose brain connection in a wonderful, seductive way.
New Year's Eve Menu
We've added Truffles! (but you will have to join us to find out where)
Christmas in the Gallery ~ come in and enjoy the decorations with a glass of wine!
All text Jil Hales. Photos © Jil Hales, Dawid Jaworski