24 July/August 2014
GROW, LIT TLE TREE, GROW
It sounds exotic and oh-so-trendy, that promise of “truffled risotto,” “truffled pasta,” even “truffled fries.” But beware restaurant menus that boast of
dishes seasoned with truffle oil, especially
if the price for these delicacies seems too
good to be true. Because it is.
“No matter how fancy the bottle or
prestigious the purveyor, flavored truffle
products are a fraud, shunned by good
chefs who know better,” says Ken Frank,
owner of La Toque, a Napa Valley, Calif.,
restaurant renowned for its Michelin-star
rating and extravagant truffle menus.
Frank’s assessment is echoed by
other kitchen celebrities such as Martha
Stewart, Gordon Ramsay and Anthony
Bourdain. The disappointing truth they
all acknowledge is that commercially
produced truffle oils contain no truffles
whatsoever, only a synthetic compound
— 2, 4-dithiapentane — that mimics the
odor and taste of the prized fungus.
“It’s no coincidence that truffle oil
appeared a few decades ago when flavor
scientists figured out how to make it in the
laboratory,” Frank said. “If it were possible
to produce truffle oil by natural means, the
Romans would have figured it out long
Frank concedes it is possible to infuse
oil or butter with fresh truffles, but it
won’t keep long, 10 days at best. And
the flavor is subtle in contrast to the
overwhelming, almost metallic taste of
manufactured truffle oil.
So go ahead and order truffled mac and
cheese if you love it. Just know you’ve got
another taste coming when you step up to
the real thing.
— Sandra Millers Younger ’ 75
It’s time. This is the summer
we’ve been waiting for, the first
summer we can legitimately
hope to harvest truffles. I have a
trained dog standing by
to sniff them out. (Pigs are so
19th century.) Chefs in Charlotte
and San Diego are sharpening
their truffle slicers.
Sandra Millers Younger ’ 75