White winter truffle (tuber magnatum).
Black winter truffle (tuber melanosporum).
People have been eating truffles since the 20th century BCE. This is 2000 years before Christ. Ancient peoples believed truffles to be good for longevity and also an aphrodisiac. It is somewhat interesting that Croatia has both oysters (aphrodisiac) and truffles (aphrodisiac) but has only 4 million people on 56,594 sq km, whilst Singapore has only 720 sq km for 5.5 million people.
Truffles thrive on the roots of trees that grow in rocky soils. This winter of 2016, in Croatia's Motovun region, the weather has alternated between dry, sunny days and wet, foggy days. This is perfect weather for truffles to grow.
In less than an hour of truffle hunting, we found 2 truffles.
Truffle hound - this is a Lagotto Romagnolo dog breed. It is a very popular breed of dog for truffle hunting. This crazy looking one is called Aaron and he is the WORST truffle hound in a pack of 4. From what I observed, this one was just dashing about the forest for the sheer joy of running and when the other dogs found truffle, he would come and paw all over us to get the treat meant for the other dog.
Buying Fresh White Truffles
One truffle shop along the main street of Motovun quoted us SGD 3,020 per kg of fresh white winter truffle. Karlick Tartufi (we found on TripAdvisor) quoted us SGD 2,265 per kg. We were quite blessed because I managed to locate a part-time truffle hunter (full-time carpenter) who had just spent his morning truffle hunting. He sold us his stash for SGD 1,888 per kg. Karlick Tartufi buys from these individual truffle hunters anyway and then sells to tourists and restaurants with a mark up.
We simply just went straight to the hunter. If you are interested, Igor and Vojka Kotiga can be reached via whatsapp at +385 9881 4560. They live at Motovun Gradiziol 5. Right opposite Igor's house is the well-known restaurant, Mondo, which was featured by Anthony Bourdain in an episode of No Reservations - see HERE.
Igor's front door. Just ring the doorbell.
Igor will poke his head out of the top window to have a good look at you. Just tell him you want his fresh truffles. Make sure that the truffles are firm to the touch (not soft and spongy). Also, don't hesitate to smell the truffles. If there is no aroma, don't buy. We were blessed. The truffles we bought had been hunted that morning itself. The aroma hung thick in the air and formed a bubble of truffle gas around me as I walked around with it in my pocket.
Preserving Fresh Truffles
There is no way to preserve fresh truffles. The fragrant oils are simply too volatile. After 3 days, the truffles are no good no matter how hard you try to keep them fresh. Think your button mushrooms. They go soft and black in the fridge after a week, no? Out of the fridge, they last barely a day or 2. The flesh of the truffle is bland and tasteless. The magic is in the smell.
I managed to figure out a way to transfer the essence of the truffle out of the truffle. I made truffle salt. The salt sucks all the aromas out of the truffle into itself. The next morning, the truffle will be soft, spongy and smells of nothing at all. The salt, however, lent magic to our scrambled eggs this morning.
Truffle in salt.
Scrambled eggs with truffle. Once you have sprinkled truffle salt on the eggs, the truffle slices are just for show. You can do without the truffle slices and still have magic happen in your mouth.
The truffle shops sell preserved sliced truffles in olive oil (has added artificial aroma), cheese and truffle pâté (cheese locks in the small, so yes... worth buying), truffle olive oil (has added artificial aromas, whole truffle preserved in brine (tasteless and smell-less). Don't bother with those. They taste of nothing unless artificial truffle aroma has been added. Buy your truffles FRESH and buy high quality Adriatic sea salt. Wash your truffles under a running tap to brush away the soil. Dry thoroughly and put them in a jam jar buried entirely in sea salt. Make sure you pour some salt at the bottom of the jar (before you put in your truffle) so that the salt also covers the bottom of the truffle.
Truffle salt can last months in the fridge and you can enjoy the truffle smell at home too. In a sense, it is like transferring the soul of the truffle from its original corporeal body into another.
Truffles are priced for size. Class 1 is biggest and Class 3 is smallest. However, the aroma is the same no matter the size. So, don't go for size. Make sure you sniff the mushroom and buy for the smell. At times, the big ones don't have as much smell as the small ones.
These are very expensive truffles. Each is bigger than my hand. The whole plate will be sold for about SGD 10,000.