Love them or hate them, truffles are one of the top five most expensive foodstuffs in the world. Katy Fentress sets out to shed some light on what it is that makes these ugly little pebbles such a sought after delicacy.
There are few plants in the world that we rely on animals to track down for us. We assume that dogs are harnessed for their hunting skills rather than for their gardening ones. Yet, truffles, one of the most expensive mushrooms on earth, could not be found were it not for specially trained dogs, whose job it is to nose them out from under the foliage and in between the roots of trees.
This year, white truffles are being sold in Italy for a record breaking price of €6,000 a kilo. Before now, the highest they had ever gone to was €5,000 in 2012 and €4,000 in 2007.
The steep hike in prices is attributed to the heatwave that besieged Italy and much of Southern Europe over the course of the past year. Heat and drought were the hallmarks of 2017, and as a result, terrains that were supposed to remain cool and humid slowed down the development of the precious truffles.
Truffles are an underground mushroom. The truffle tuber lives symbiotically in the roots of certain trees, like oaks, hazelnuts, pines and willows. Its shape is largely contingent to the ground it grows in, with soft terrains giving birth to spherical truffles while rocky and hard terrains give birth to gnarled and odd rock-shaped ones.
If you are unfamiliar with truffles, you will undoubtedly find their smell quite hard to stomach. Much like the East Asian fruit Durian, revered by many while reviled and said to smell of corpses by many more, the aroma of truffles is quite the acquired taste. It has been likened to the smell of old socks, sex and French cheese; a fact which makes it more, not less, attractive to the hordes of truffle fanatics across the world.
In 2015 a white truffle from Alba, an area to the North West of Italy famous for producing the best white truffles in the world, sold for the grand total of $160,000 at an auction in Hong Kong.
Luckily for us common mortals though, white truffles are not the only variety out there and some of the others types are almost as good and relatively more pocket friendly.
There are four major types of truffles available on the market, with most commercially available ones coming from Southern Europe and more recently Eastern Europe. These are, in order of decreasing price: white truffles, black truffles, black summer truffles and whitish truffles.
On the 7th of December this year, La Dolce Vita Restaurant will host an exclusive one-off Truffle night. Choose between two or three courses of luxuriously decadent, pungent and mouth watering classic Italian truffle dishes. Prices start at Ksh 7,100 which includes welcome drink and two courses