By THÉRÈSE MARGOLIS
“There is nothing quite like the taste and aroma – especially the aroma – of a white truffle,” said Mauro Chiecchio, executive chef of Alfredo di Roma, as he closed his eyes and savored the pungently, earthy flavor of a tiny plate of paper-thin slices of the prized and pricy fungus.
“It is almost impossible to explain the taste of truffles, but they are so unique and rare that wars have actually been fought over them.”
Chiecchio is right.
It is said that the notorious Borgias – known for their cloudy but powerful ecclesiastical and political affairs and bon vivant lifestyles in the 15th and 16th centuries – considered the musky bulb both a status symbol and the rightful property of the papistry.
So when some northern Italian producers refused to offer up their harvests to the Roman Catholic Church, Rodrigo Lanzol Borgia (Pope Alexander VI) was known to send out troops to punish the offenders by burning down their homes, leading to numerous skirmishes that collectively were known as the Truffles War. .
And Pope Alexander’s daughter, Lucrezia Borgia, allegedly used truffles to both seduce (they were believed to have aphrodisiacal qualities) and poison her long line of lovers.
Even in recent years, there are cases of Italian farmers who have resorted to violence to defend their claims to the illusive tumors.
Unlike black truffles — which are far more readily available and affordable (but much less aromatic) – white truffles can only be found in the Piedmont region in northwestern Italy, buried along the roots of the lush oak and hazelnut trees.
Also called trufa de Alba, they cannot be cultivated. Instead, they have to be foraged by specially trained dogs which sniff out their scent under the earth.
And white truffles only grow during the fall months.
White truffle season usually begins in October and ends in December or early January (when the ground freezes over), and since the capricious white truffle does not age well, if you want to savor this extraordinary delicacy, you have to do it during the white truffle season widow.
All of which explains why white truffles are so costly and rare.
Ah, but as chef Chiecchio put it, “Those who have never tasted a white truffle, will never understand their magnificent, and those who have, will almost always want to come back for more.”
Those in the latter category (and even those in the former category who finally are ready to indulge themselves in culinary ecstasy) will be pleased to know that Alfredo di Roma, located inside the Presidente InterContinental Hotel in Polanco, is offering its clientele white truffles to be purchased by the gram and lovingly shaved over their dishes — for as long as supplies and the season last.
“White truffles are the king of truffles, and they are always served fresh,” Chiecchio told Pulse News Mexico.
“You don’t cook with them. Instead you crown your dishes with them.”
Chiecchio said that to truly appreciate the flavor and perfume of a white truffle, you should start with an unobtrusive dish, such as a white risotto or buttered pasta, both of which let the truffle take the starring role.
He served us a creamy fettuccini Alfredo (the house specialty) topped with truffle shavings that created a virtual symphony of gastronomic delight in our mouths.
Chiecchio also conjured up a delicious beef carpaccio with virgin olive oil that he blanketed with shredded truffles and a perfectly seared salmon steak embellished with mashed peas and twigs of rosemary, over which he shaved tiny layers of the precious bulb.
“The truth of the matter is that white truffles are very versatile, and can be used as the crowning glory of practically any dish,” he said.
“They are so wonderfully aromatic and tasty that even a few slivers can completely transform a simple dish into a gourmet masterpiece.”
Alfredo di Roma will be offering fresh trufa de Alba white truffles shaved at your table over any dish for as long as the white truffle season lasts.
Alfredo di Roma is located inside the Presidente InterContinental Hotel at Campos Elíseos 218 in Colonia Polanco (tel: 55-5327-7700).