To follow are a few paragraphs from Giorgio Locatelli’s book Made in Italy. Food and Stories. He writes with vivid description about completely anecdotal experiences and thoughts; it is quite genius. Sometimes his views about things are presented with such a level of confidence that one starts thinking of it as objective truth. This happens to people who have grown up in a culture of something, and then spent their lives mastering that very thing; people who are steeped in a tradition or discipline. He writes about food and cooking and feeding people. Here he is on truffles.
The first time someone tastes a truffle they often find it quite disappointing, even off-putting, because usually they have heard so much about them and they expect so much. Sometimes people say to me, ‘Oh, they smell of feet. Horrible!’ It hurts me to hear it, but I understand. If life could be described as a smell, then it is the smell of truffles. They smell of people and sweat. They just remind me so much of human beings; that is why I love them. Also, I think, as you get older you appreciate truffles more, I don’t know why.
Because the truffle is such a unique thing, it is traditionally used very simply – shaved over a risotto made with grana cheese, or on top of pasta, beef carpaccio or eggs – so no other flavour can try to compete with it. In Piemonte restaurants during the season, they serve the traditional dish of fonduta, which was once the meal of local farmers but is now considered a luxury. Fontina cheese from the Valle d’Aosta is heated with milk, egg yolks and butter until creamy, then some white truffle is shaved over the top, and you eat with slices of toasted bread to dip in it.
I love truffles, but I hate all the by-produce – I would never buy truffles in brine, as they don’t have the same flavour, and the thing I detest most is commercial truffle oil, which some drizzle over everything. It invariably contains chemical flavouring which messes up your taste buds and repeats on you. At Locanda, we make our own truffle oil (which we don’t use for risotto), which has to be used within two or three days or it will lose its intensity.
It is exciting to have found a truffle farmer in KwaZulu-Natal. So far we have used it grated on an herb omelette, as truffle butter on hot toast and with a risotto. At the restaurant are now ‘all out’, as they say, but more is on its way…