If you have access to truffle, not only is it a solid tick in the bourgeois column for you, you are one lucky dude or dudette.
The truffle is a magical and mysterious beast. It hides in the dark, symbiotically suckling the nutrients of others like some form of delicious conjoined twin. For millennia it has been shrouded in rumour and secrecy, falling in and out of favour with chefs and consumers alike. But none of that is important during the Canberra and Capital Region Truffle Festival when all that matters is the many and varied ways of transporting this mighty tuber into our collective mouths. Do you know how hard it is to get a truffle? If nothing else, you would be foolish to look this gift horse in the mouth.
We here at Sage are doing our part in the process by offering our Pauper to Prince lunch menu which will see $75 get you three courses of warming, comforting peasant food elevated to new heights by the addition of local truffles.
You, Dear Reader, even have the chance to win lunch for two simply by liking our Facebook page and guessing the weight of our prize truffle, seen here:
However, whilst these alone are good enough reason to increase your intake while you can, read on to learn yet more, including a classic truffle recipe…
The growth cycle of a truffle is long, lucky, and lazy.
Despite the spores being widely distributed, the damn things only appear to make friends with a handful of species and only ever buy tickets to specifically warm and appropriately wet environments. Predominantly found growing on oak trees, only hazelnut, beech, the odd pine and poplar trees can be consistently relied upon to give the truffle a couch to sleep on, and only in the right soil.
Even then you can expect the little balls of delicious to just chill out, freeloading in the roots of their woody mate for as long as ten years – probably using up all the wifi and eating all the cheese – before popping their heads out of the door to make something of themselves when it is warm enough. It is at this point that you rightly set the dogs on them (or pigs if you have them, but more on that later).
Basically they appear to be on something of a quest to ‘find themselves’ whilst avoiding being useful in any way for extended periods of time. But this does make them more interesting and exciting when they finally do. Ultimately, if you find a functioning truffle in society, you have hit the jackpot.
#2 – They scared the merde out of the ancients.
Imagine you are walking through a forest a few thousand years ago. Birds are chirping and warbling, your faithful dog pants expectantly by your side and, depending upon your belief system, the odd dinosaur is running around.
You pull up to a wizened old tree to rest; weary from all the sabre-tooth tiger clubbing you’ve been doing of late. You slide your back down its trunk to rest on the leaf litter. You grunt at yourself, largely because that’s all you know how to say, but also because you sat on something lumpy. It was a rock. You throw it at a passing velociraptor and immediately regret your decision; only uncreasing your face once you realise it was probably just a large bird.
But where once was a rock is now a patch of bare earth which faithful fido is suddenly very interested in. You poke around in the dirt as he scratches at a knobbly looking root, pulling out what seems to be another, stinkier rock. It’s edible, but you don’t know that yet. As far as you’re concerned this is just some weird dog toy. At some point you, or someone you don’t like very much will eat it. It will be delicious and do nobody any harm, but it will still be weird and therefore probably evil (satire).
We don’t know the brave lad or lass who first ate a truffle or what they thought of them, but it’s safe to say that the had no clue how they came to be. The question is discussed by Greek historians, including Plutarch, who linked truffles to thunderstorms and areas where there were autumnal rain and lightning strikes. So we can deduce that they were associated with some of natures scariest stuff. As we discussed above, this is basically just the climate which our fungal friends like the best, but try telling that to someone who essentially has a god on hand to blame for anything.
So they have always been a mystery, but Larouse Gastronomique notes that as far back as the ancient Egyptians people are reported to have eaten truffles, and the Greeks and Romans even considered them an aphrodisiac – but what wasn’t back then? In the Middle Ages, they were considered the work of the devil for exactly the same reason and largely banned by the Catholic Church – but what wasn’t back then either?
It’s safe to say that today we are lucky and can freely consume our fair share of truffles with risk of neither being cast into the fiery pits of hell nor having our loins burst into lustful flames. The latter may be a mixed blessing.
However, they may be onto something, because…
#3 – They make pigs feel randy and squirrels feel sexy
Ever wondered why pigs were traditionally used to hunt for truffles? Of course you did. Did you assume it was because of their voracious appetite?
It’s because the pig is more turned on than a politician with a microphone in their hand. According to West German research in the New York Times article (yes, from the 80s), the truffle has long since worked out how to mimic porcine sex hormones which, unsurprisingly drive the little piggies crazy. Left to their own devices in the wild, our Casanovas of Crackling take lustful bites of truffle and spread the spores throughout the surrounding area, presumably whilst looking for a quiet place to lie back and light a cigarette.
Another New York Times article (they appear to have maintained their pig sex desk following the fall of the Berlin Wall) the truffle also has the same effect on squirrels and there is some suggestion in the former piece that exposure to the chemical can make humans find other humans more attractive.
So when you next ponder a menu featuring a truffle dish, bear in mind that you are doing the rest of us a favour by ordering it and that it probably goes great with some pork.
#4 – People (mostly French) have literally killed for a good truffle
For years it has been known that truffle production is big, serious business, and in France, shit gets real.
The dogs used for sniffing out the tasty tubers have been at the centre of things, often being ‘borrowed‘ from neighbours’ backyards to assist in a truffle hunt. In some more serious cases they have even been poisoned by competitors.
But in a 2010 case, also from France, a young truffle producer with the rather magnificent name of Laurent Rambaud (pronounced Rambo – you can’t make this stuff up!) took the law into his own pungent hands. One night after a spate of truffle robberies in the Drome region of France, Rambaud was patrolling his truffle grove when he spied a suspected armed thief and shot him dead. The community was up in arms over the killing. They felt Rambaud should never have been arrested.
But France has form in this type of matter. In 1974 a judge declared the fatal shooting of a personal cook by a Parisian banker ‘completely forgivable’. The cook’s mistake? She had served the banker’s last truffle to her friends while he was at work.
Long story short: If you have a truffle, make sure it doesn’t belong to a Frenchman.
#5 – (Recipe) They make people want to eat things like this…
The famed French chef, Auguste Escoffier was famed for his love of truffle. So much so that he invented dozens of recipes for their consumption. All were probably delicious, but some were ridiculous in their ostentation. This is one from the latter category and I wish you the best of luck in putting it together. If you do, let us know how it was in the comments or our Facebook page…
4 medium-sized truffles
1 gls Champagne
4 thin slices of pork belly
Clean the truffles thoroughly, season with salt and pour the champagne over them. Wrap each truffle in a slice of pork belly and double wrap in greaseproof paper. Moisten the outer layer and place the parcels in the fireplace, covering them in hot ashes and embers. Leave to bake for 45 mins. Arrange on a napkin and serve with fresh farm butter
See what I mean?