There’s no forcing Nature’s hand when it comes to white truffles.
“White truffles are a rare, exquisite gift offered by Mother Nature and Mother Nature alone,” said Thierry Farges, president of Transantlantic Foods. Farges started importing wild mushrooms to New York City in the mid-1980s when they were a novelty.
Shiitake, oyster mushrooms, and even black truffles can now be farmed, he explained, but cultivating white truffles is impossible. Their price reflects that. The fungi, which exude an aroma that Farges calls “exquisite, powerful, almost garlicky,” cost about $125 an ounce.
This year the stars aligned, and an early crop even came in about a month ago, setting aflutter the hearts of the tuber lovers.
Yet the best may yet come to those who wait. The time of the white truffle has now arrived, in its full, decadent glory.
“Truffles are like everything else,” said Sergio Acappella, owner and executive chef at Acappella. “You pick it too early, and the full taste, the aroma, isn’t there yet.” Starting this Friday, Acappella will be serving fresh pappardelle made in-house with cream and fresh white truffles ($45 for an appetizer, $90 for an entree).
On the Hunt
Finding white truffles is still done the old fashioned way, with a human and a dog.
Despite what you might have seen, forget pigs. “Try stuffing one into the back of a Fiat,” said Farges. And they love to eat truffles so woe to the hunter who isn’t quick enough. “The pheromones found in truffles are similar to those of a female pig, so guess what the pigs are going for?”
Food historian Francine Segan went on a truffle hunt last year. Hunts organized for visitors are simulated, she explained. A hunter hides a truffle, walks away, and lets the dog loose to find it.
A real hunt would take too long, and hunters are also secretive about the location of their lucrative stomping grounds.
But Segan got lucky on her hunt. The dog gave a “truffle bark” and took off—indicating he had sniffed out a real truffle. Arriving at the spot, the truffle hunter then took out a small shovel.
“As he was digging, a wonderful fragrance came over all of us. We were salivating. The truffle had infused the ground with fragrance.” The hunter had to grab hard to pull the truffle from the ground. “It was amazing, a living thing,” Segan said.
Truffles, Segan said, have been revered for centuries. “Ancient Romans loved truffles,” believing them to be aphrodisiacs, she said. Their mythology reflected the fact that these truffles could not be grown. “They believed that when the gods would send a thunderbolt, the spot where it hit the ground, it was where they left a little buried treasure [in the form of a truffle].”
Segan, recently came back from a visit at Urbani, the world’s largest purveyor of truffles, in Umbria, Italy. The company is researching ways to replenish the supply of both white and black truffles. “They discovered you can infuse baby saplings with a special spore on their roots, so that when you plant them, they are more likely to develop truffles near those trees.”
In Italy, the most popular way of eating white truffles is also the most simple. “Over wonderful fresh pasta, over wonderful fresh risotto, or over a loosely scrambled egg, a coddled egg or even an oven-baked egg,” said Segan.
Farges recommended, “Lightly brush off any dirt and use a chocolate/truffle shaver to shave over hot, hot pasta. Linguine, handmade or at least purchased fresh, provides the perfect landing spot for the white truffle’s assertive, heady aroma. Do not attempt this unless everyone is seated and the pasta goes immediately from pot to plate.”
White truffles are expensive. Beware cheap white truffles. “Oregon white truffles sell for a pittance,” Farges said. “They are pretty but the enchantment stops there.”
Last year Segan carried a gift of a white truffle to incoming Mayor Bill DeBlasio on behalf of the city of Alba. The humble looking tuber, sitting in a beautiful wooden box, was worth $8,000. (DeBlasio donated the truffle to the Food & Finance High School, where it was enjoyed by 500 students and teachers, prepared and grated over pasta by chef Jonathan Benno of Lincoln Ristorante.)
To make the white truffle’s flavor more accessible, products like truffle oil appeared in the ’90s. However, Farges said, “the white truffle oil was rarely ever in contact with actual truffles.”
Farges, like a good Frenchman, found his answer in butter. “What better truffle delivery vehicle than high-fat creamery butter?” he asked. His Aux Delices des Bois truffle butters (which come in both black and white truffle versions), made with organic milk, are best used as a last-minute garnish, sinking right into a hot dish.
Where to Enjoy White Truffles in Manhattan
Since eating white truffles is a luxurious experience, many people opt to eat out. We’ve compiled a selection of restaurants around the city where you can find this earthy gift from Nature. Note that at some restaurants, truffles can be added on at a supplementary price.
SD26 (19 E. 26th St., 212-265-5959, SD26NY.com)
- White Truffle Gala on Nov. 19, five-course seasonal prix fixe, wine pairings, $350 per person, including tax and gratuities. Guests can choose however much or little they desire, from dishes including house made pasta to a dessert of Stracchino Cheese and Acacia Honey Mousse.
- A truffle supplement menu is also available for lunch and dinner, including recommendations like Shirred Eggs with Organic Butter ($12.50) to Risotto with Aged Grana Padano ($27). White truffles are charged according to consumption, at $9 per gram or market price.
Locanda Verde (377 Greenwich St., 212-925-3797, LocandaVerdeNYC.com)
- Trufflepalooza. Dishes change weekly. Sample dishes with white truffle include Polenta with pork sausage and Fontina Val d’Aosta, $35, and Uovo Raviolo with egg yolk, ricotta, and balsamic, $50.
All’onda (22 E. 13th St., 212-231-2236, AllondaNYC.com)
- Four egg dishes with white truffles for brunch: Parmigiano Sformato ($48), soft scrambled eggs with grilled country bread ($51); polenta with poached egg, mushroom and soy ($55); and eggs over a cacio e pepe ($58).
- Also for dinner, white truffle “risotto tartufo” with sake lees and parmesan ($65).
TESSA (349 Amsterdam Ave., 212-390-1974, TessaNYC.com)
- White Truffle Linguini, homemade pasta and white truffle infused-cream emulsion and shaved white truffles, $35 or market price.
Sushi Nakazawa (23 Commerce St., 212-924-2212)
- Served in Chef Nakazawa’s omakase, including his signature uni and toro courses, for $15 per serving.
Acappella (1 Hudson St., Acapella-Restaurant.com, 212-240-0163)
- Pappardelle, made in-house, with cream and white truffle, $45 for appetizer, $90 for entree.
- Agnolotti, made in-house, stuffed with porcini mushrooms served in cognac sauce, with white truffle oil, and a touch of cream, $18 for appetizer, $36 for entree.
Perilla (9 Jones St., 212-929-6868, PerillaNYC.com)
- For a supplement of $20, white truffle can be added to these dishes:
- Pumpkin & Ricotta Agnolotti with lobster mushroom, chestnut, kale, pomegranate & brown butter sage sauce.
- Bamboo Risotto with market egg, snow pea and puffed amaranth.
- Stuffed Autumn Squash with burgundy truffle, baby turnip, almond, lobster mushroom, kamut & black garlic marmite sauce.
Boulud Sud (20 W. 64th St., 212-595-1313, BouludSud.com)
- Truffles can be shaved on top of Parmesan Risotto, soft scrambled eggs, or potato gnocchi, $45 for entree, $90 for entree.
- White truffle shavings are also recommended over the Nyman Ranch Beef Duo with Swiss chard, wild mushroom, daube jus, $39.
db Bistro Moderne (55 W. 44th St. 1, 212-391-2400, dbBistro.com/NYC/)
- White Truffle Raviolo, $48.
Lincoln Ristorante (142 W. 65th St., LincolnRistorante.com)
- White truffle dinner on Nov. 19, featuring the cuisine of Piedmont.
- Tajarin con Tartufo Bianco, $55; Agnolotti del Plin in Brodo, $65; other dishes such as Vitello Tonnato, Bistecca e Brasato di Manzo available with shaved white truffle as supplement.
Il Mulino Prime (331 W. Broadway, 212-226-0020, IlMulino.com)
- Grilled Asparagus with a fried quail egg, cracked pepper, and white truffle, $45.
- Off-menu: Porcini Mushroom Ravioli with white truffle, $120; Grass-fed Filet Mignon, $135.
Pranzo at Eataly (200 Fifth Ave., 212-229-2560, Eataly.com/NYC-Pranzo/)
- Starting Nov. 1, most of the menu at lunchtime restaurant Pranzo will have a truffle theme (both white and black), or an optional supplement. The menu for November celebrates the region of Umbria, where Eataly sources its truffles.
- Maltagliati con Lenticchie: Housemade Maltagliati with Black Lentils, a Light Butter Sauce, and Shaved White Truffles. (no price yet)
- Vitello con Patate e Funghi: Braised Veal with Smashed Potatoes, Royal Trumpet Mushrooms, Sugo d’Arrosto, and Shaved White Truffles. (no price yet)
Toloache (locations on 50th Street, at 82nd St. & Thompson St., ToloacheNYC.com)
- Tacos de Pescado y Trufas, chipotle-glazed halibut in homemade corn tortilla, made with jicama, American caviar slaw, and white truffle shavings, 2 tacos per order $30.
- A white truffle five-course tasting menu will be available in December, $200.
Market Table (54 Carmine St., 212-255-2100; MarketTableNYC.com)
- Tagliatelle Tartufo with White Truffle butter and parmesan cheese for $18, plus $50 for shaved white truffles on top.
The Little Owl (90 Bedford St., Manhattan 212-741-4695, TheLittleOwlNYC.com)
- Risotto Bianco with organic egg yolk and parmesan for $18, plus $50 for shaved white truffles on top.