Posted on: Sunday, February 12, 2006
THE INSIDE SCOOP
Chef unearths truth about truffles
By Simplicio Paragas
Dining Out Editor
Inching his nose closer to a lump-of-coal-sized black truffle, my instructor for the day La Mer's chef de cuisine Yves Garnier deeply inhaled the earthy essence of the fungus, grinning widely and exclaiming in his thick French accent "Parfumé! Sweet!"
For centuries, the French have hunted for truffles in the southern Provencal region of France, using pigs which have since been banned and are now replaced by dogs who do all the sniffing and digging to ferret out what the French have charmingly-hailed as le diamant noir.
Without a dog or pig, however, Garnier explained that a patient hunter would have to look for a glint off the wings of gnats or flies that hover above the ground, signaling where truffles may be secretly hidden.
Burried under the earth and damp soil next to oak trees that majestically rise from the foothills of verdant and lush Provencal mountains, the "black diamond" represents the créme de la créme in the world of truffles.
"There are all different types of truffles," Garnier exuberantly professed, pointing his index finger to emphasize this point. "But this black truffle is the most precious because it's the most rare and it's also the most aromatic."
It's the most costly, too.
Unwilling to give me the exact price per pound for his black truffles, which arrived from California via FedEx, the ebullient one-time culinary ambassador to Monaco raised one eyebrow and coyly said, "It's vary ikspensive."
Cutting one of the truffles in half, Garnier again took a deep whiff and held up the finely-marbled like a quality steak flesh, with white veins zigzagging in every direction.
Lifting it to my nose, a pungent yet fragrant scent tickled my olfactory senses, piquing the interest of my taste buds and whetting my appetite. But, as a good student, I would have to wait until Garnier continued with his lesson.
With other truffles, such as the Tuber Aestivum (aka summer truffles) and the Tuber borchii or magnatum (white, which are actually beige, truffles grown in Italy), their odors are less aromatic and their marbling less pronounced, said Garnier, thumbing through books and magazines that detailed the history and almost mysticism behind the truffle and the different types found in France, Italy and China.
But, much like there are many "sparkling wines" produced throughout the world, there's only one Champagne. So it is to say, there's only one Provence truffe noire, even though the French black truffle is now being cultivated in northern Tasmania, Australia.
Garnier ended his lesson with one final question: "What is a truffle?"
By definition, it's simply a fungus that grows in meadows from November through March. But to Garnier and other gastronomes, the black truffle is an accidental "phenomena" born from the dampness and soil found beneath gnarled oak trees; it's a precious ingredient, which must be sparingly used and whose intense earthy flavors have the uncanny ability to elevate any dish to a gourmet status.
So what does Garnier plan to do with his highly sought-after black truffles? Cook with them, of course; sprinkling truffle shavings on his potato galette; creating a truffle jus to enhance his Kobe beef entree; and preparing a mille-feuilles (puff pastry layers) of foie gras laced with a truffle-enhanced sauce.