Once upon a time, a pig found a mysterious tuber underground. Its uncomely appearance disguised a magical aroma. Soon, the news of this little tuber spread, and it became the most prized and valued object in the land.
Truffles really are the stuff of fairy tales. I will admit to being a skeptic myself until I first tried these pungent creatures in Italy. The experience of eating a white truffle shaved thinly over risotto can only be described as spellbinding.
People have been fascinated with truffles since ancient times. The Roman philosopher, Cicero, imagined they were the children of the earth. The prophet Muhammed is quoted as saying their juice is “medicine for the eyes.” It wasn’t until 17th century France that truffles developed into a delicacy. The gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Saverin noted they were popular in Parisian markets and on the tables of the nobility.
The procurement of truffles has remained remarkably unchanged for centuries. They are still stubbornly un-cultivatable and consequently may be one of the last foods that adhere to a season. Truffle “farms” are more an exercise in luck than skill, and pigs and dogs are still the only things that can harvest them. The truffle’s obstinacy in adjusting to modern times only adds to its mystique and demand. A Perigord truffle can fetch up to 1000 euro per kg. Like other luxury items, I wonder whether people (myself included) are fascinated with truffles because they are expensive, or they are expensive because people are fascinated with them. Also, like any other worthy luxury item, truffles even have Chinese counterfeits.
Lucky for us common folk, even if the truffle remained out of reach, its essence became accessible with the invention of truffle oil. I used it frequently to elevate even the most pedestrian fare — eggs, potatoes, grilled cheese. This exuberant consumption of truffle oil continued, until some time ago I read an article by chef, food writer and killjoy Daniel Patterson. He revealed that the majority of truffle oils are merely olive oils with a synthetic truffle flavor. Afterwards, I felt like a 3 year old that had just been told that there is no Santa Claus. Was it all just too good to be true?!
After some deliberation, I chose to willfully ignore Chef Patterson’s allegations. My little bottle of truffle oil is still a magical potion that makes ordinary meals special. It transforms an experience from eating to dining. I may not know what is inside the bottle, but it is still granting all of my wishes.
TRUFFLE CHICKEN SALAD
- ½ cup of mayonnaise
- 2 tsp Dijon mustard
- 2-3 tblsp of white truffle oil (a good quality one can be found at Carluccios)
- 3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, poached and diced
- ¼ cup of golden raisins
- ¼ cup of toasted walnuts, chopped
- ¼ cup of sliced green scallions
- Salt and Pepper to taste
Mix the truffle oil, mustard, and mayonnaise together. Add more or less truffle oil depending on taste. Toss with the remaining ingredients. Season with salt and pepper.