White truffle season comes to Hong Kong's Italian restaurants

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 27 November, 2013, 6:18pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 27 November, 2013, 6:18pm

From late September to January, it would be difficult to find an Italian chef who’s not thinking about white truffles.

“White truffle season is an exquisite moment of the year. It enriches the moment between autumn and winter. It’s a celebration of seasonality, of the expression of nature,” says Umberto Bombana, executive chef of 8 ½ Otto e Mezzo.

White truffles fetch astounding prices, in part due to their rarity and elusiveness; they cost about HK$32,000 per kilo wholesale, while restaurants charge their customers about HK$100 per gram.

While black and bianchetto (“whitish” ones, grown in the spring) truffles can be cultivated, white truffles are unique as they grow only in the wild. The botanical classification, Tuber magnatum pico, as well as their appearance, have led many to believe that white truffles are root vegetables like potatoes, but in fact, they are a type of fungi.

When using white truffles, Bombana says, “You have to be very sensible. [White truffles] bring subtlety to the plate.”

Cream, eggs, cheese, pasta and risotto are his preferred pairings, and he suggests avoiding vinegar and strong reductions.

Andrea Fraire, chef de cuisine at Grissini at the Grand Hyatt, agrees. “I like truffle on fresh pasta with a simple sauce like butter sauce. This is the best way to enjoy the flavour of the white truffle.”

Antimo Maria Merone, chef de cuisine at L’altro, likes to pair them with Jerusalem artichokes, which he says are also very common in Piedmont, but his favourite way to eat white truffles is with diced raw beef from the Fassone, the Piedmontese cattle. “The flavours are simple; it’s the best way to enjoy something so expensive and precious,” he says.

Paolo Montanaro, CEO of TartufLanghe, one of Piedmont’s largest truffle companies, say truffle locations are secrets kept guarded by families. “Truffle hunters pass down maps from generation to generation, marked with locations of the trees with truffles.”

Read the full story in the November 28 issue of 48 Hours