Truffles…those legendary little balls of fungus that pigs snort up…. people pay piles of cash in order to have the privilege of enjoying a few shaving on top of a dish. Are these overpriced orbs of culinary fascination really worth it?
All my life (well at least for the past year or so), I have admired truffles from afar… hoping that one day I would get to sample them and experience their luxurious taste. Judges on Iron Chef and other television cooking completions all becoming giddy children whenever fresh truffles are used by one of the show’s combatants. And the menus of famous restaurants serving exquisite entrees, always have a few ‘truffled’ items available to order. Then there are the gourmet grocery stores where small glass jars of truffles with ridiculously large price tags, are carefully reserved for only the most ‘respectable’ of clientele. But I , Mr. Fed Up, have always been an outsider looking longingly in on the gourmet world of the truffle.
I decided to change that though and figured that FedUpFood.com could use a first-hand account of the miracles that truffles are supposed bless upon each dish they grace.
Being the stingy man who I am, for my truffle introduction I figured I would try something relatively cheap, simple, and easily found. Truffle Oil. While browsing the gourmet section of a local market, I was offered a sample of some of this olive oil that is supposedly ’infused’ with truffle flavor. Well I tried some and could not find anything unique or special…just oil with a slight hint of dirt. But then I remembered one of the rules of Iron Chef, Chopped, and all those other addicting cooking competitions: Whenever a contestant uses truffle oil, they ALWAYS lose. In the Fed Up household, the idea of ‘truffle oil’ is a joke now, and we mention the dangerous ingredient whenever something is going to cause your meal to suddenly suck or ‘lose.’ So I should have not been surprised when I tasted the stuff for myself and was unimpressed.
But then I figured, this was not REAL truffle. This was just some flavored oil, which likely could never do the flavor of fresh truffle any true justice. I luckily had a plane ticket to Italy and got so spend 2 weeks roaming around Tuscany. I was determined to try fresh Tuscan truffles right from the source. One night after spending a day exploring a small town and checking out local grocery stores, I sat down to a dinner in a quite little restaurant off the beaten-touritst-track, where half the items on the menu seemed to contain truffles. FINALLY, I had my chance to try fresh truffles and I eagerly ordered a chicken based salad, and mentioned to the waiter how I was eager to try truffles. Luckily I was not footing the bill, and so I did not worry about the cost of my meal when the waiter proudly presented me with a bowl piled high with truffle shavings! There was a crazy truffle to lettuce ratio…this truly would be my chance to savor the gourmet ingredient at its finest.
I took my fork and pierced several huge truffle shavings and a leaf of lettuce, and took my first bite of my ‘gourmet’ entrée. I chewed slowly, and kept searching for ‘that’ prized flavor…there was nothing. I mean. It was not bad, but the slightly mushroomy/earthy taste was not life-changing. I would easily prefer some fresh protabellos or shitakis over these truffle shavings (and they would cost a fraction of the price). Were these things stale? Were they ‘counterfeit‘ truffles used by cheap restaurants to dupe unassuming guests? I had to assume that the truffles that topped my dish were just flavorless leftovers that this tiny restaurant served to the dumb, international diners who did not know better. I left the restaurant that night with an unsatisfied appetite that yearned to experience what so many people seemed to rave about.
When I got back Stateside, I knew I had to accept NO substitutes; I, myself would make sure the next truffles I tried were going to be truffles at their peak. They would not be some diluted truffle-oil-nonsense, and they are not going to be some stale truffle ‘impostor.’
I made peace with the fact that a heavy price would be paid, but I finally had a jar of QUALITY whole truffles purchased from a gourmet food shop. I stared at the tiny jar for days. I was terrified to open the damn jar because I knew that than any chance of making a return would be voided. The three round truffles teased me constantly…and finally I broke down and opened up the jar.
I carefully inspected each truffle; they had a soft texture and an earthy smell. They seemed to be of good quality, but then again I have no idea what a ‘good quality’ truffle is supposed to be. Still, these could not possibly disappoint me…right? They were freaking expensive…
I shaved the three truffles as delicately as my massive hands could manage. I then sampled some of the raw shavings, trying my hardest to truly appreciate the taste…Nothing. NOTHING. I was shocked to find that there was only a weak taste similar to mushrooms. There was no eye-opening savory explosion that permanently changed my perception on the possibility of what tasty food can be like. Nope. there was nothing…just a sad, little, pathetic hint of flavor.
But I figured I would give truffles one last shot…I took ALL the shavings from the 3 full-sized truffles that once filled the jar, and piled them on top of a flatbread pizza. I was hoping that the truffle flavor would increase and the aroma would be infused into the entire dish, just like when you heat a good cheese. Well…cooking the truffles in with the rest of the pizza did make there be a noticeable more ‘truffle taste’…but still nothing special.
This was a sad day for me. My hopes, my dreams, my fascination with truffles was instantly destroyed. To me, truffles are just a scam. A way to pawn off the pig-found-fungus on gourmet diners who rely on the price of a dish to determine how good it is, instead of their own taste buds and common sense.
So maybe I have just have only experienced truffle tragedies, maybe I have been unlucky with the truffles that I have gotten to sample so far…So if you are a truffle fan; feel free to send me a few of your favorite overpriced fungus-orbs, and I will happily give them a try to attempt at proving myself wrong…otherwise shut up and realize that truffles are only going to cause trouble for your peace of mind and for your wallet.
Truffles: you have been added to the Fed Up list of disappointing foods. You are no better than Cookie Crisp cereal, dragon fruit, Red Delicious apples, or even Canadian Bacon. Truffles…you only cause tradegy