Understanding the nuances of truffle cuisine is no easy feat, especially when considering the differing perspectives of Europeans such as the Italians, the French, and others. In this post, we'll delve into both the cultural and practical aspects of preparing these delectable underground jewels, examining differing traditions on whether you should slice or grate them on food.
It's just bad manners to grate truffle onto your food in Italy!
Being of Italian heritage, when I was at university, I thought I would pick an easy subject in my first year and do Italian language studies. I had a lovely time being around the Italian teachers. It was a nice way to slide into a strange environment and still have some of the comforting aspects of home. However, I remember distinctly the first dinner with the class at an Italian restaurant. I ordered spaghetti vongole making sure to pronounce the 'vongole' with my best Italian pronunciation. But it was not until the plate arrive and I started to eat the pasta that I experienced the full force of Italian culture bearing down on me. You see at home, in order to ease us into eating spaghetti as children, my parents had allowed us to roll our spaghetti using a spoon. Naturally I continued this into my late teens thinking it was all normal. I had up until that point never eaten in an Italian restaurant with anyone other than my family.
Back at the restaurant, at my second mouthful, my Italian teacher looks up at me in disgust and sneers 'ma quanto sei scostomato? which translates into something like, 'what a disgrace you are? But it was with the second remark that she tore out my heart and stomped it under foot... 'ma te veramente, non sei Italiano?', yep you guessed it, she said 'you are no real Italian!'. In one fell swoop, this authority figure had stripped me of my identity, such is the fury with which we Italians hold onto the 'way of doing things': or our culture. A more recent example you may be aware of is the controversy about using cream in a Carbonara.
I could go on but for the purpose of this post I would like to continue exploring this theme but more interestingly how relates to our Australian truffle culture. Yes I believe there is such thing as our local truffle culture which probably borrows from the Europeans and with other bits added here could be considered our very own Australian truffle culture. A case in point is the video below. I don't want to reveal too much about what is in the video at this point other than to say for the purpose of my examination below, it's worth noting your reaction as the truffle is being sliced.
Your reaction to the truffle being sliced, of cause, actually reflects the beliefs you have taken on about how a truffle should be used (from your culture), it's value, the implied prestige and by implication the type of food it should be paired with. For some, the above video would be confronting, annoying, for some it would be a hoot. Certainly, in Europe there would be outrage. Of cause that is what is meant to do. By poking fun at the types of foods we have come to expect 'should' and 'should not' be paired with truffles these marketing people have found a very effective way to draw our attention to their product. It certainly is eye catching marketing.
I have included it here to help make more salient the attitudes we, the Europeans and others have on the way truffles 'should' be used, and in particular whether or not to shave or grate truffles on food. Now lets cut to the chase.
Should you shave or grate truffles on food (in Italy)?
Well, if we were to listen to Giorgia Lady Truffle Rome in the November 2020 issue of Italian Marie Clare, you would never! grate truffles onto food, and most certainly not the Alba white truffle. In the article, which is titled something like, 'Is grated truffle a supreme heresy or a trick that we have never studied thoroughly?' Giorgia describes the white truffle and all its culinary glory adding that the best way to bring all this to the plate is to present it in its most beautiful form possible, sliced. A thinly sliced white truffle medallion (barely the thickness of a human hair), Giorga says, gives the best experience of the Alba's beauty and it's pungent aroma on any food. Grating the Alba's delicate skin and moist flesh would render it almost inedible, she says.
By the end of the article on the subject of grating, she does relent explaining that because of the less pungent character of some black truffles (think Tuber Brumale or Tuber Aestivum) and depending on the food being prepared, it would be permissible to grate. With regard to the black winter truffle (Tuber Melanosporum) which is cultivated here in Australia, Giorga says it has such an aggressive aroma, there should never be a need to grate it.
Should you shave or grate truffles on food (in Australia)?
Well what do you think?
I think that given the delicate character of the white Alba, I would resist grating, with a qualifier. If it was going into something like a mayonnaise or other cold sauce, I would try grating.
If I were using one of the less pungent black truffles say on a steak, I would certainly grate to make sure the flavours got in as best they could. Then for appearances, to impress my guests, I would add a slice or two at the table as well.
If I were using a Fish River Truffle at home with Leesa, I would grate. I find with grating, if it is a very pungent truffle I use less. If it was less pungent I would grate a bit more. For any Fish River Truffle, if it was going into a toasty where all the aromas are locked in and surrounded by cheese and bread, I could slice or gate depending on my mood and how much of a truffle experience I wanted.
If on the other hand, if we had guests and I wanted to show off our Fish River Truffles, I would make sure I had the most impressive slicer I could find and I would slice some lovely round medallions on the plate as it came to the table, regardless of if we had grated any during the preparation.
Knowing the characteristics of the truffles you are using and the food you are preparing allows you to choose the best way to use your truffles. And if you stuff it up, well then reset, and go again. Surely, this is la dolce vita!
New slicer and grater arrivals in our online store.
If you are looking for a slicer or grater for your truffles this season be sure to go to our online store for a look at our new arrivals. We will also have them at the markets at Orange Grove.
That's it for now, hope you found the post interesting. Give us a like if you did.
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Ciao for now.