Skip to comments.What All The Stink Is About (Fresh Truffles)
Posted on 01/02/2007 2:47:49 PM PST by Diana in Wisconsin
(More cooks seek out pungent fresh truffles, up to $150 an ounce)
(WI) When cooking with Italian white truffles, a little goes a long way. At $2,500 a pound for the rare mushrooms, that's a good thing.
"I'm still kind of in awe when I sell them," said Jason Roewer, an assistant manager at Sendik's on Oakland.
The Shorewood grocery is one of three stores owned by John Nehring that stocks them, and Nehring might be the only grocer in the metro area who has the courage to do that, according to his supplier.
"The fresh ones are a little scary to carry," said Jane Harmeyer, sales representative for Isola Imports, a Chicago distributor of Italian food.
The Italian whites, and a black variety that Nehring is offering for $1,100 a pound this year, require a big upfront investment for a food that has a short shelf life, about a couple of weeks.
Interest in the pricey mushrooms has been growing in recent years, Harmeyer said, even in a city such as Milwaukee, which has had a reputation for its blue-collar tastes.
Last month, Bacchus, a Bartolotta restaurant in downtown Milwaukee, served a five-course dinner built around Italian truffles, at a price of $350 a person.
Nehring has also found a market for truffles as an ingredient for home cooks.
"You would not believe the number of people who don't have a lot of money, but they love food," Nehring said. "They'll buy one for Christmas."
Some of the demand has been driven by the popularity of food shows and celebrity chefs on TV.
"People are cooking at home more," Harmeyer said. And foodies are particularly interested in trendy items such as exotic mushrooms.
"People like John Nehring are taking them by the hand and telling them what to do with them," she said.
Because the Italian truffles have such a strong taste and aroma, a cook needs only a small amount to season a dish, the food experts said. A popular way to use them is grated, uncooked, over a plate of fettuccine Alfredo.
Each truffle weighs only a few ounces. At about $155 an ounce for the Italian white truffles and $70 an ounce for the black, the most anyone spends is usually around $300 or $400.
Nehring doesn't put them out for customers to grab at his Sendik's, G. Groppi and V. Richards stores. The mushrooms are stored out of reach, in the cooler. When they are purchased, a manager gets involved, to weigh the mushrooms and set a price.
Some other local high-end grocers, including Sendik's on W. Capitol Driveand Grasch Foods on W. North Ave., both in Brookfield, and Gagliano's in Delafield, stock truffles in jars and take orders for the fresh ones.
Bill Grasch, co-owner of Grasch Foods, said he had offered fresh truffles in the past.
"They just sit there," he said. Now the store stocks black truffles in brine, for about $30 a jar.
Nehring, meanwhile, has sold the pricey fresh varieties for the past three years. The truffles are seasonal, coming in the fall and winter.
Prices are set annually, when pickers in Italy auction them to food distributors. They get the high prices because of the difficulty of the harvest, Harmeyer said.
Truffles grow in the ground, so the pickers use highly trained small dogs - some valued at $200,000 for their special skill - to sniff them out.
"They're watched 24 hours a day," Harmeyer said, explaining that the dogs are in danger of being killed by competitors in the cutthroat world of truffles.
They used to use pigs but switched to dogs because the round truffles would get stuck in the pigs' snouts. Or the pigs would eat a lot of truffles and cut into the profits, she said.
Even here in the United States, Harmeyer uses special care when she gets an order for truffles, delivering them personally.
"I had 4 pounds in my car at one time," she recalled. "The smell is unbelievable. I had to keep the windows open to air it out."
This is what $1,800.00 worth of truffles looks like. (Not shown actual size, LOL!)
I had no idea. I don't think I've ever tasted a truffle. What sort of taste is it?
When I was in WA state,I visited a mushroom farm.Pure darkness and a stench to die for,or will die if you breathe.The smell of manure reminded me of the farm I grew up on.But,I still love mushrooms,but I wash them VERY well.Wife hates them,but I sneak them into tomato sauce.If I get caught,this will be my last post ever!!!Wife has a Foreman punch!
It's like trying to describe a particular "color" to a blind person.
Earthy? Pungent? Aromatic cheese? They're really quite unique. I've only had them once, but it was worth it. I do use a Balsamic Vinegar that is flavored with truffle. ($12 a bottle. Eeeek!) Again, it just gives it an "earthy" taste, to me.
Think of truffles more of an "herb" or a seasoning. It's not like you'd just fry them up with onions and put them on a burger. ;)
Have you ever had porcini or morel mushrooms? The flavor is somewhat similar, though much stronger, with undertones of an aged cheese. Because of the strong flavor and the cost, they are used as a spice rather than a meal component. It just takes a tiny amount to completely change the taste of a dish, much like saffron.
I've heard that truffles were highly valuable... but wow...
Oh, now you did it! I want one, LOL! Looks like a "hairy" version of the three German Shorthairs my brothers have.
I'm still trying to get my Basset to sniff out Morels in the woods behind us on the hill. So far, no luck. ;)
Dogs are killed in the competitive world of truffle sniffing? So are these blood truffles? :)
They're neat, aren't they? They appear to be distantly related to poodles and portugese water dogs.
I had a truffle (black) and parsnip soup this fall. It was WONDERFUL! I could have eaten a vat of it. It tasted like a forest with lots of ferns smells after a summer rain in early evening when it isn't too hot and the sun hasn't broken through the clouds yet. Seriously.
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