Mission Europe 2: One Man’s Fungi is Another Man’s Treasure

So many times we glance at the culinary pantry of other cultures and turn our noses up at what we consider to be strange ingredients.  Perhaps before judging we should consider that among the many ingredients we deem delicious, we eat fungi.  Fungi by definition is: “a tumorous organism that spreads rapidly and lives as a parasite”.  Yum.

With a hankering for fungus we headed to Alba; a city that hosts an annual tribute to the King of all mushrooms, the white Truffle.  We chose a good day to visit the fair because it was also a day where the medieval roots of the city were boasted from every balcony and portico.

Alba loves their medieval culture, they also love wine and of course they adore their famed truffles.  Upon arriving at the Ente Fiera Internazionale del Tartufo Bianco d’Alba we visited the Mercato Mondiale (The World Market).  This pop-up structure presented truffles in all its shapes and forms.  The products available were endless…truffle laced cheese, truffle infused honey, truffle flavored oil, truffle scented salt…

The first thing to hit you is the earthy aroma that hangs in the air.  Instantly your taste buds chant in unison: “umami, umami, umami.”  It was a bit crowded and cramped but very interesting.  I learned many things about this symbiotic mushroom that I did not know and that I would like to share with you all.

How to select a truffle: You must use 3 of the 5 senses to detect the quality of a truffle, regardless of if it is black or white.  You want to begin by its appearance (sight).  Choose a truffle that is whole and relatively clean looking (keep in mind many truffles grow underground).   After narrowing the search your next criteria is texture (touch).  Truffles are usually irregular in shape but should possess an elastic texture.  Finally to find the best one in the bunch, follow your nose.  Truffles are renowned for their fragrance.  The more complex and robust the aroma, the better the truffle.

How to clean a truffle: Use a special soft brush (such as a soft nail brush) and rinse the truffle under cold water to remove any presence of dirt.  Gently dry with a paper towel or cloth.  Let the truffle sit for at least 10 minutes to dry before cutting.

How to store a truffle: Truffles should be kept refrigerated wrapped in parchment paper or a paper towel inside a hermetically sealed jar for no more than a week.  After 7 days they truffle significantly begins to lose its character.

We strolled through the streets of Alba, relishing the richness of costume colors and bounty of street food.  So many things to see, but possibly my favorite was the array of medieval games, many of which will likely make an appearance at any upcoming dinner parties I may host.  You could fish for grapes, attempt to collar a wine bottle and even do your best to pierce a salami with a dart.

The Ente Fiera Internazionale del Tartufo Bianco d’Alba claimed to be a celebration of cinema and mushrooms, though to this day I fail to see the connection.  Regardless of this curious inconsistency, it was a quaint affair with much to learn and taste as well as see and do.

Until next time…


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