Prized throughout history by Greeks, Romans and Renaissance royalty, truffles remain a much sought-after delicacy. Labelled by French writer Mr Alexandre Dumas as the “holy of holies for the gourmet”, this edible fungus is enduringly enigmatic due to its subterranean growth in symbiosis with tree roots that elevates the work of truffle hunters to an art form. Each autumn sees the advent of white truffle season, which – running from October to January – provides chefs with a powerful, pungent new addition to their cooking arsenal.
“One of the most pleasurable things about being a cook is that every season offers up something magnificent and the great thing about white truffles is that they start to reach their peak just as everything else is a bit tired,” says chef Mr Jackson Boxer, who has developed a special white truffle menu at his Notting Hill restaurant Orasay. “As the earth dies back and fruit season comes to an end, truffles are the last thing to get really excited about; a compensation for the gloom of winter.”
Around 70 types of edible truffle exist worldwide but the greatest demand has traditionally been for black winter truffles and white truffles, which fetch premium prices that fluctuate massively according to supply. “Black truffles have a wonderful earthy quality that carries through well, but are never absolutely extraordinary,” says Mr Boxer. “But white truffles – in their scarcity and aromatic potency – are an entirely different beast. Over even a simple bowl of steamed rice, a few shavings are absolutely transformative.”