Are Truffles Overrated?
(An edited version of this response appeared in Waitrose Food Illustrated magazine)
Truffles. Ah yes.
I'm sure it's very cool to say that truffles are overrated, and it's true that with food, as with religion, we need to worship symbols and superlatives and if they didn't exist, we'd have invented them anyway. But anyone who claims that they overrated is either a barbarian or a fool. The difference between truffles and caviar, for instance, is there's no smoke and mirrors. There's tangible, clear evidence from a single sniff of a white truffle that - even if you don't like the smell - they truly are the most mesmerising, heady, unique and mysterious substance that could pass your lips. And if like me, you love the smell...don't get me started.
I would, however, hate to see a restaurant dedicated to truffles for two good reasons: one, a wider interest in and love of truffles will send their prices spiralling even further out of my reach, and two, I have a strong suspicion that the restaurant would be full of tossers having business meetings and the glorious flavours would go in one nostril and out of the other.
That said, the black truffles sold in little jars with a spit of brine are the devil's crottins, worthy only of making into a cat food. White truffles are where its at. The best way to enjoy a truffle is not to eat it at all but to buy a small walnut box of the sort that gourmands keep their most precious salt in. Half fill it with the finest arborio rice you can afford and buy the most pungent and gnarly white truffle you can find. Place it in the box with the rice, then keep it by your side 24 hours a day, allowing yourself a sniff of heaven every 20-30 minutes. The truffle will last for 3-5 days in the box before it turns into a mouldy mush, but you will have visited gustatory nirvana so often that it will have entered your longterm memory and you will sigh the sigh of the contented gastronaut who can summon up the smell whenever you are feeling sad or lonely and need to be reminded that there are greater things in the world than the flux and mutability of your own mere existence.
If, however, you feel that you HAVE to make a risotto, you should never, ever ever EVER spread your truffles thinly. Make it only for you and the one person in the world you love more than life itself. If they are one and the same, so be it.
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