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Delhi Wine Club
White Truffle with Red Brunello and Barolo at Artusi

Posted: Friday, 21 November 2014 14:07

White Truffle with Red Brunello and Barolo at Artusi

Nov 21: The scarce and expensive white truffle can not only change the flavour of eggs, pasta and cheese fondue but also make a simple meal like pasta take a new avatar when matched with Pinot Noir and full bodied red Brunello wines from Montalcino and Barolo, writes Subhash Arora who used the 5-day annual window and organized an exclusive dinner for the Connoisseur Members of the DWC at the up-market, standalone Italian Restaurant Artusi, last Sunday with the purpose of also experimenting and matching them with red wines

Click For Large ViewWhen I received an email last Thursday from Oscar Balcon, owner of Artusi Restaurant, informing me that they have received a small quantity of white truffle from Alba, I didn’t pay much attention. The world’s most expensive fungi last barely a few days after the harvest, so are difficult to transport and have to be hand-carried. But enamoured by my gourmet experience with truffles in the past, I could not resist calling the restaurant the next day. They had received one piece weighing 220 gms and after cleaning only 180 gms were left- out of which 30 gms had already been consumed the previous night! The price- a princely Rs. 420 per gm +taxes, non negotiable even if the number of people was large! That made it Rs. 500,000 a kg- the most expensive fungi in the world!

Barely with 2 days in hand I rustled up a few members, reserved 50 gms of the ‘white gold’ and went ahead planning the menu with Oscar and his Italian Chef Alessandro- and it was well worth it.

My first encounter with white truffle, Tartufo bianco, was about 8 years ago in a small Piemontese town when I had something like a fondue served in a soup cup at a 1-Michelin star restaurant, with white truffle shavings that changed the character completely. I remember dreaming about that flavour exploding in my mouth for days. Later when I attended the Alba White Truffle Fair in 2009 and saw hundreds of kilograms on display with bargain hunters, I wondered about the off-putting smell in the area and why they were so expensive. But when I met the bounty hunters who spend days visiting the secret sites known to them only and with specially trained dogs to dig a few grams of white truffle during the months of October –March, I could understand why the price was astronomical-around €1600-2000; the pedestrian black truffle could be purchased for €800 a kg-partly because of supplies in other countries like France and Spain etc as well.

I have been privileged enough to visit Villa d’Este every November to attend the World Wine Symposium. Due to the cold weather setting in, it is fairly chilly but the white truffle season means I have my Eggs Benedict for breakfast everyday for 3 days-with generous shaving of white truffles-perhaps 2-4 gms in each plate of two eggs. Two years ago there was a huge scarcity and the prices shot up to €5000. Last year was slightly better with the price coming down to €3500 with this year crashing back to €2000. So the Rs. 420++ a gm did seem expensive but I can understand the difficulties and channels that 180 gms would have passed through and the costs!

Click For Large ViewWhen I told Oscar Balcon about my first dish for our wine dinner being some soupy dish, he could not comprehend at first. After playing dumb charades, he did figure it out, did some quick research and came out with Fonduta delle Alpi- an ancient recipe from the Alps in Piedmont, which combines a variety of cheeses slowly brought to their melting point while being constantly and vigorously stirred. Spiced with nutmeg and pepper and enjoyed while piping hot with white truffle shavings, it was not as delicious as my first encounter but pretty close-and was the topic of discussion till it was finished-obviously, unlike our traditional dinners, there were no Seconds. But it did go very well with a medium bodied Austrian Grand Cru single vineyard Riesling from Kamptal. Earlier we had enjoyed a dry young 2012 Riesling from an iconic German producer.

The white truffle Fonduta must have been a great appetizer because the Ferro Salad- Rocket salad with grapes, raisins, pears and goat cheese and finished with toasted pine nuts, extra-virgin olive oil and balsamic vinegar evaporated in seconds!

Tajarin is a special variety of thin, rustic and flavourful home-made noodles of Piedmont- made using the yellow of the eggs and a pinch of parmesan cheese. A section at the Alba White Truffle Show turns orange-ish yellow-with vendors doing brisk business selling Tajarin. The neutrality and consistency of this pasta is a perfect base to savour white truffle. Risotto bianco is a plain and mild risotto finished with parmesan cheese only and like the Tajarin, it forms a nice base to savour white truffle- though not as perfect in my book of gastronomy. Uova -eggs- are one more fine option to enjoy the fragrance of fresh white truffle. Artusi serves the eggs fried ‘al tegamino’ or scrambled cream-and-egg-even fried eggs go well. I love mine with the Eggs Benedict that also has a chunk of ham on the bread.

We had the option to order any one of these dishes with generous shavings of Tartufo bianco. My strong recommendation for dinner was to go for the Tajarin and those who heeded my advice didn’t regret it. Divine tasting pasta took you to yet another plane with the Pinot Noir as well as an elegant Brunello from a top producer. I had no room left for the main course which offered the option between fish (Salmon / Sea Bass / Snapper), or Caponata (vegetarian),  or a choice of Lamb Chops or Pork Fillet. For the Brunello and Barolo, the option would be lamb chops for me or a pork fillet. I took a bite with my Barolo to know I was right! Perfect combination, that! But what was surprising was that the truffle in the pasta was able to match the Barolo-morsel to the sip. I am a great proponent of mushroom with full-bodied red wines as a balance for vegetarians. Truffle being from the fungi family too had similar sense to go well with the Barolo.

Click For Large ViewWith Panna Cotta with caramelized figs and almonds, Artusi’s classic Tiramisu, and their Mousse-au-Chocolat, we were spoilt for choices and the Recioto di Soave did the job of balancing between the dessert and the wine. But the dinner ended with another sweet note-the truffles had finished and a few guests who wanted to order had to be disappointed. Our reservation of 50 gms did us good! (we actually consumed 52). Of course, Chef Alessandro did a marvellous job weaving the magic of white truffle in the 2 dishes. The serving staff were on their toes to ensure the experience was no less than Maharaja style.

We would perhaps have to wait for another year now to replicate the heavenly experience at Artusi-and try some more full-bodied reds with dishes made with White Truffles of Alba or as Oscars and Alessandros of Italy would say- Tartufo Bianco d’Alba!

Subhash Arora

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Tags: White truffle, Artusi, Truffles, Tartufo bianco, Alba White Truffle Fair, Villa d’Este, World Wine Symposium, Oscar Balcon, Fonduta delle Alpi

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