It’s a joy to read that truffles, once the preserve of fine diners and connoisseurs, will soon be within the reach of more modest culinary budgets. Thanks to steady rain in Northern Italy this year, white truffles are likely to be in abundance and Britain could soon be gripped by ‘truffle mania’ as the price drops as a consequence. The so-called ‘diamonds of the kitchen’ are usually in season from November until January but were available as early September this year. The bumper harvest means prices in Alba, where the most prized white truffles are found, have dropped by around 30 per cent. 100 Euros (£86) now buys around 72 grams, compared with 52 grams last year.
Josie Graziosi, the head chef at the Hotel Endsleigh in Devon, said he expects many restaurants will start using truffles in basic dishes. ‘This year it has been good weather for mushrooms and truffles because there has been stable rain,’ Graziosi, 50, told the Sunday Telegraph. ‘If the weather is too wet that is bad but the year has been good and steady… If the weather conditions carry on like this they will become more and more common. It will be truffle mania.’ Mr Graziosi warned that the price of dishes still has to reflect the fact people are eating a premium product but admitted many chefs are hoping the weather stays the same so the bumper crop can continue. Francesco Mazzei, the chef patron at Sartoria in Mayfair, where an extra 1 gram of truffles cost £10, told Bloomberg ‘this year was fantastic’. He added: ‘They [the truffles] started early and we are selling quite a lot.’
White truffles, which usually grow around oak, hazel, poplar and beech trees, are used in a variety of dishes including pasta sauces and risottos, or as an accompaniment to beef carpaccio. Many truffle hunters, who use dogs to sniff out the fungi, keep their most prized locations secret. The fact that they can only be foraged and not farmed helps to increase their value. ‘For many restaurants truffles are put on the menu as soon as they come into season,’ Mr Graziosi said, ‘as it is time for the truffles they have to be on the menu no matter what the price.’
Mr Mazei added: ‘It is an indulgent thing that brings Italian food to the very highest level and the season is quite short.’ But in other places truffles have undergone something of a revolution. Bocca di Lupo in Soho now allows customers to bring their own, much like ‘bring your own’ bottle of alcohol to eat alongside dishes, while some pop-up restaurants serve them in cheaper ‘tapas style’ dishes alongside sparkling wine.
I consider truffles in culinary terms to be the gemlike food that we mortals treat with the sanctity reserved for the gods that the Romans and Greeks idolised and revered in mythology.