More than a cookbook, Simply Truffles (William Morrow, November 8) by Patricia Wells takes us on the black diamond trail, sharing anecdotes like the fact that Colette was said to have devoted 1 day a year to eat truffles to when and where you can find these earthy delights.
History buffs will enjoy the Truffle Time Line which starts in 2000 BC with mention that 'the first known text about the truffle is recorded by the Neo-Sumerians on clay tablets'.
We then get to the meatier part of 'Simply Truffles', some 50 recipes. The author offers wine pairing suggestions for a number of them.
After exploring her new book, I had a little Truffle Talk with Patricia Wells.
Q: Patricia, why chose truffles or to be more specific black truffles as the subject of your new book 'Simply Truffles'?
Because truffles are native to our region of Provence. I have been working with truffles every season since 1984 and built a repertoire of recipes that needed a home, thus Simply Truffles
Q: How far back do we have to go to spot first truffle recipes?
The oldest surviving truffle recipes can be found in the first known European cookbook, Apicius, from 400 AD. The book records six truffle recipes, including one for wine sauce made with truffles as well as methods for storing truffles in sawdust.
Q: Do you favor the 'all truffle tasting menu' concept? If you do where did you have the best tasting ever?
I love the "all truffle tasting" menu as long as it is done right and there are plenty of truffles. At least once each season, since 1984, we savor the truffle feast at the restaurant Beaugraviere in Mondragon, about an hour's drive from our farmhouse in Provence. There chef and owner Guy Jullien creates the most memorable menus all paired with wines from his excellent cellar of Rhone wines. Some highlights include a winter vegetable ragout with an avalanche of truffles; a whole truffle baked gently in puff pastry; truffles scallops; truffled Bresse chicken; truffled St Marcellin as well as Brie; and truffle caramel ice cream!
Q: What percentage of truffles found in France are wild ones?
Today probably 80 percent of the truffles found are unearthed beneath an artificially mychorrizalized tree (one inoculated with truffle spores.) In aspect and taste there is no difference between a "wild" or "domesticated" truffle.
Q: Does the idea of 'terroir' applies to truffles? Can you taste the difference from one area to the other and between producers?
Yes, for sure. For instance truffles founds in sandy soil will be rounder, and firmer. The taste difference may not vary dramatically from producer to producer but the aspect certainly can vary.
Yes, they are, for they give more "bang for their buck" as we would say.
Q: What was the most unconventional truffle dish you ever encountered and tasted?
I am thinking and searching but not coming up with a most unconventional. Probably because it was not good and I don't remember it. If I come up with something, I'll get back to you!
Q: Finding truffles, is it all about 'pheromone'?
It has to be, but I have watched dozens of dogs hunts truffles and no two dogs go at it in the same way. Just wander and sniff gently, some are like wild animals and race about then stop dead like a cartoon character. I did speak with a farmer in Italy a few years ago. Their dog found one of the biggest truffles ever found and it took them an hour to unearth it. They had to hold the dog back he was going wild.
Q: For cooks who cannot afford a whole truffle, what is the next best bet, truffle salt, truffle butter?
Definitely truffle butter first, truffle salt next. They can work wonders.
Q: Is Truffle Oil just a restaurant fad?
Truffle oil is nothing more than perfume. Indigestible and wrong!
Q: Are you always present in November for opening Saturday of Marche aux Truffes in Richerenches?
I always get to the Richerenches market several times each season but am almost always in the United States at the end of November so rarely get there for opening day.
Thank you Patricia for making time for a little Truffle Talk with us.
(* Photos by Jeff Kauck from Simply Truffles by Patricia Wells, published by William Morrow on November 8)