Ahhh truffle. Distinctive, pungent, sensual and glorious. This fruiting portion of the underground mushroom is nearly worth its weight in gold. Stanley Ho holds the record for highest truffle payment with his 2010 purchase of two white truffles for $330,000.
The white truffle is notoriously found in the landscapes of the Italian city Alba. The height of the season is in October-November and is celebrated with the annual truffle market. We had to make a pilgrimage.
Governed by Il Centro Nazionale Studi Tartufo (National Center of Truffle Studies), truffle judges approve each and every white truffle for sale at the market. 90-95% of these truffles meet the standard of approval.
We had the pleasure of interviewing one of the truffle judges, Francesco D’Alessandro. Charming and forthcoming, Francesco filled us in on his trade:
Q: Can you give us some background on the truffle judges at this market?
FD: Il Centro Nazionale Studi Tartufo analyzes the evolution of the truffle year by year. They train the judges (30-35 of them) on sensory analysis and characteristics of the truffles, terrain and trees.
Q: What exactly are the judges responsible for?
FD: This international market is once a year. For a period before the market opens, the judges check all of the truffle stations and approve the white truffles (take any bad ones).
Q: How long have you been judging truffles?
FD: I’ve been a judge for six years.
Q: What are you looking for as you approve white truffles?
FD: A good white truffle is uniform, smooth, white on the inside and out, the right amount of humidity (19% water) and has a pure perfume. It should smell of only honey and onion. Any other smell is not good.
Q: What is your favorite way to eat a white truffle?
FD: The best way to eat white truffles is on eggs or pasta.
After we speak with Francesco, we visit the booths of truffles. The air is thick and scrumptious. We learn that truffle researchers use dogs to locate the truffles with their strong sense of smell. The researchers typically keep their locations top secret so that they can return each year.
We buy a few white truffles to put on pasta with Loni that night. Wow, what a dream come true for us. Taking part in the annual truffle market in Alba, meeting truffle judges and researchers and tasting the BEST white truffles in the world at the height of the season? Pure bliss.
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