What is it like to eat the most expensive food in the world?
THE MYSTICAL POWER of the truffle is defined by its scarcity, its amazing aroma, and for the magical properties it bestows on other foods.
When you ask truffle people about the smell, it can be very hard for them to put it into words.
“A good Périgord truffle, it’s an earthy, sweet aroma, you want the sweet, and it should last,” says Jax Lee, before she gives up searching for the right adjectives. “Tania is a much better person to ask!”
“Old socks and sex!” laughs former chef and now truffle grower Tania Billingsley. “I have no idea who termed this but it’s one of the best descriptions of truffles I’ve ever heard!
It turns out Tania’s favourite description comes from NZ author and truffle grower Gareth Renowden of Limestone Hills. In The Truffle Book (2005), he writes:
“Refresh your memory of the smell of unwashed socks – not a teenager’s super-ripe school sock at the end of the week but an adult’s of a day or two’s wear (wool and nylon mixture). Leave your armpits un-deodorised for a few hours on a warm day. Open the spice cupboard and take a deep sniff. Crush an unpeeled clove of garlic. Find some damp leaves and dig your fingers into the earth underneath (oak leaves are best). Then for go for something floral – lilies for penetration, roses for sweetness.” Then there is the effect it has on food, as Gareth explains in his book.
“A steak with truffle sauce becomes more meaty, eggs are transformed into a gourmet item, and every aspect of the meal becomes more satisfying.”
Most types of truffle are added as a final flourish and you don’t need a lot says Tania.
“You wouldn’t sit down and eat one on its own, for a serving you might only have 10g or 20g.
“Périgord is shaved on at the end (of cooking) and it’s divine. Some of the traditional things are to serve truffle on scrambled eggs, shave it over pasta, it’s beautiful shaved over a really nice eye fillet steak, truffle mashed potato… a lot of restaurants when they get it will take shavings of truffle, split a wheel of brie and put the truffle in the brie and leave it for two or three days.
“When I’ve got fresh truffle, I normally store it in the fridge with eggs and the eggs taste like truffle.
“My favourite, my most amazing recipe, was truffle pizza and it was to die for, it was just a plain dough with a white wine and
cream reduced sort-of sauce, and then you shave truffle on top once you cook the pizza.
“The other thing it goes really well with is cauliflower... a small ramekin of a creamy, pureed cauliflower soup with parmesan and truffle shaved on the top.”
You might think you’re getting the flavour of it if you use truffle oil, but there’s no comparison between that and real truffle says Tania.
“If you ever get the chance to have a real truffle… it’s just spectacular.”