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Entertainment, Food & Beverage

Top dollar truffles

White truffles are back in season. The wild tubers might be smaller, but are just as aromatic.
The Sunday Times - November 4, 2012
By: Rebecca Lynne Tan
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Top dollar truffles Chef Justin Quek gets truffles from his longtime supplier. -- ST PHOTOS: NG SOR LUAN

Not since 2003 have trifolau and tartufaio - Italian truffle hunters - and their trusted truffle-sniffing dogs been this disappointed.

Prized white truffles, found in the Piedmont region of northern Italy, are particularly scarce this year, after the area experienced a long, hot and dry summer with little rain.

In fact, this year's tartufi bianco or white truffle season has been one of the worst in recent memory, according to Alba-based white truffle supplier and export company, Tartufi Morra, a reputable supplier there.

Mr Alessandro Bonino, 44, one of the owners of the business, says this year is comparable to the worst season of 2003. Before then, the region's worst recorded white truffle season had been in 1947.

The low supply and increased demand have driven prices up by about 50 per cent compared to last year, he says.

Gourmands in Singapore are paying more for their white fungi.

Depending on the size, the cost price of white truffles currently starts at about ¤4,000 a kg (S$6,300) for those that weigh 6 to 12g. The price increases to well over ¤8,000 for larger specimens.

Most of the restaurants contacted say they are charging $12 to $20 a gram, up from last year's base price of about $9 a gram.

Scientifically known as tuber magnatum pico, these precious gourmet "diamonds" can also be found in parts of Croatia, Slovenia and Southern France, though the ones found in the countryside near Alba in Piedmont, such as in the Langhe area, are more highly sought after.

The knobby tubers are known for their heady and uplifting aroma, and are the highlight of the year for many European and Western restaurants, especially Italian ones.

They grow in moist earth under trees such as oak, poplar and willow, and require the right combination of warm sunny days, cool nights and rain to thrive.

Unlike the closely related black truffle varieties, which can be found in countries such as France, Australia and China, white truffles are wild and cannot be cultivated, hence the high price.

The white truffle season usually runs from the middle of September to the end of January, with late October and November being the peak seasons. This year, however, the season started about a month later because of the less-than-favourable climatic conditions.

The poor growing season has also affected the size of the truffles. This year, many are smaller, about the size of hazelnuts and walnuts.

Large truffles, about the size of a fist or bigger, are often more valued because they are impressive, but chefs SundayLife! spoke to say the smaller ones can be just as aromatic.

The price has already increased by about ¤1,000 since restaurants here began serving shavings of the white diamond atop their signatures from the middle of last month.

Despite the hefty price tag, chefs and restaurateurs see the seasonal delicacy as a must. The upside, they say, is that the euro is slightly weaker this year.

While most restaurants buy their white truffles from gourmet food suppliers here, a handful of chefs and restaurateurs go directly to their contacts in Alba, the white truffle hub.

Chefs such as Justin Quek of Sky on 57 at Marina Bay Sands has known his supplier, Mr Bonino, for 15 years and trusts him to send quality truffles. Mr Ignatius Chan, one of the owners of Modern European restaurant Iggy's at the Hilton Singapore also receives his shipment directly from Mr Bonino.

Others such as chef-owner Luca Pezzera of Bonta in Mohamed Sultan Road, chef-owner Osvaldo Forlino of Amarone at Capital Tower and No Menu in Boon Tat Street, chef-owner Roberto Galetti of Gardibaldi in Purvis Street, know their trifolau by name.

Chef Forlino, who is from Piedmont, goes directly to his cousin, a trifolau, for his supplies. Chef Galetti contacts his trifolau and friend of 18 years, Mr Franco Canta, who is based in Asti in the Piedmont region.

Knowing the hunters and suppliers is important because that way, they are assured of top quality product from Alba and not other regions, these chefs say.

Chef Michele Pavanello of Otto Ristorante in Maxwell Road, who also has a truffle hunter contact in Piedmont, says: "We offer it because it is a prime ingredient and one of the highlights of the year, especially for Italian restaurants."

Thin slivers of white truffle are shaved over dishes that range from carpaccio and eggs to pasta, risotto, main courses of beef and fish, and even dessert.

Diners here and around the region have been eagerly anticipating the peak of the white truffle season.

Prices might be high but restaurateurs say diners have been heading to restaurants and even asking for additional shavings of white truffle.

Last week, for instance, Bonta's chef Pezzera served two customers 88 extra grams of white truffle on two courses, which already came topped with 5g each.

Diners whom SundayLife! spoke to say they plan to be cautious, given the economic climate.

Housewife Vicky Yeo, 46, has been waiting for her wedding anniversary to indulge in the delicacy.

She says: "I have looked forward this period every year since I first had white truffle about 10 years ago in Italy. It isn't something you can or should eat every day because of the price and its rich flavour. It is when you savour it that you enjoy it most."

-- ST PHOTOS: NG SOR LUAN                         -- ST PHOTOS: NG SOR LUAN

ASIAN AND EUROPEAN

Sky on 57

What: Chef Justin Quek has come up with five dishes for the white truffle season. For a taste of Asia, opt for the Nordic King Crab  - King crab and rice vermicelli in superior broth ($70, top), with white truffles. Other dishes include Egg Royale ($38), a confit of duck foie gras with white truffle shavings and chicken jus; and Live Scallop Sashimi - a sweet and fresh Nordic scallop ceviche, white truffle shavings, organic greens ($40, bottom).

 
Where: Sands SkyPark, Tower 1, Level 57, Marina Bay Sands, tel: 6688-8857; open: noon to 2.30pm, 6 to 10.30pm daily

When: Now till the end of the season

Price: The dishes are served with white truffle. Additional shavings are priced at $15 a gram.

 

MODERN EUROPEAN

Gordon Grill

What: The restaurant is offering 10 white truffle dishes, ranging from appetisers to desserts. Start with dishes such as a light white truffle-scented Jerusalem artichoke veloute with smoked duck ($18), or scrambled eggs with langoustine and white truffle puree ($36). Desserts include apple tarte tatin with white truffle ice cream ($18), and a white truffle and chestnut creme brulee ($16).

Where: Goodwood Park Hotel, 22 Scotts Road, tel: 6730-1744, open: noon to 2.30pm, 7 to 10.30pm daily

When: From Friday till the end of the month

Price: Shavings of white truffles are priced at $24 for 2g. Prices of dishes exclusive of shavings of white truffle.

-- PHOTO: SENSO RISTORANTE & BAR

ITALIAN

Senso Ristorante & Bar

What: The menu includes items such as fresh Burratina Pallazo served with shaved white truffle ($75); king fish carpaccio with shaved white truffle, sour lemon cream and micro herbs ($72); and homemade taglierini pasta with white truffle and aged Parmesan ($72).

Where: 21 Club Street, tel: 6224-3534; open: noon to 2.30pm (weekdays), 11.30am to 3.30pm (Sundays), 6 to 10.30pm (Mondays to Saturdays), 7 to 10.30pm (Sundays).

When: Now till middle of next month

Price: The dishes are served with white truffles. Additional shavings are priced at $20 a gram.

 

-- PHOTO: OTTO RISTORANTE

Otto Ristorante

What: Chef and co-owner Michele Pavanello is dishing up his signature white truffle dishes that include a risotto with truffle and onion compote ($26), Dutch veal scaloppine with marsala wine and white truffle ($42), as well as a white truffle creme brulee ($14).

Where: Red Dot Traffic Building, 28 Maxwell Road, tel: 6227-6819, open: weekdays, noon to 2.30pm, Mondays to Saturdays, 6.30 to 10.30pm. Closed on Sundays.

When: Now till the end of the season

Price: Additional white truffles are priced at $12 a gram.

 

Bonta Italian Restaurant & Bar

What: Tuck into chef-owner Luca Pezzera’s five white truffle creations, which include homemade braised veal ossobuco ravioli served with white truffle ($82), and poached eggs served with rosemary butter sauce and white truffle ($72).

Where: UE Square River Wing, 207 River Valley Road, 01-61, corner of Mohamed Sultan Road and Unity Street, tel: 6333-8875, open: noon to 2.30pm, 6.30 to 11pm daily. Closed for lunch on Saturdays

When: Now till the end of the season

Price: The dishes are served with shavings of white truffle. Additional shavings of white truffle cost $12 a gram.

 

Osteria Mozza

What: Dishes here include celery root cappellacci, a filled pasta that looks like a hat, with hen of the woods mushrooms and white truffle (from $85); ricotta gnocchi with wild mushrooms and Bloomsdale spinach (from $29); and a ricotta and egg raviolo with browned butter ($25 a piece).

Where: The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, Bayfront Avenue, B1-42 to 46, Galleria Level, tel: 6688-8522; open: 5 to 11pm daily. Sunday brunch, noon to 2pm

When: Now till the end of the season

Price: Add a $30 supplement for each gram of white truffle. Except for the celery root cappellacci, the other dishes exclude shavings of white truffle, which are additional.

 

Garibaldi Italian Restaurant & Bar

What: Chef Roberto Galetti is teaming up with his friends, chef Riccardo Genovesi from Lake Garda in Northern Italy and London-based chef Stefano Savio, for a three-day white truffle promotion at Garibaldi. Dishes include truffled potato cream with Mediterranean seabass carpaccio and white truffle; Barolo braised oxtail with parsley, potato and shaved white truffle; and a white truffle steamed tiramisu.

Where: 36 Purvis Street, 01-02, tel: 6837-1468, open: 11.30am to 3pm, 6 to 11pm daily

When: Nov 15, 16 and 17. A la carte dishes are available from now till the end of the season.

Price: A four-course menu is priced at $198 a head; while a six-course menu is priced at $298 a head. On Nov 14, the trio will host a special five-course course Barolo wine and white truffle pairing dinner priced at $450 a head. Additional shavings cost $15 a gram.

 

-- PHOTO: IL LIDO

Il Lido

What: Two white truffle dishes are available here. Indulge in a homemade egg tagliolini with white truffle ($78), and a risotto with buffalo butter, toasted hazelnuts, Iberico ham and white truffle ($78).

Where: Sentosa Golf Club, 27  Bukit Manis Road, tel: 6866-1977, open: 11.30am to 2.30pm, 6.30 to 11pm daily

When: Now till end of the season

Price: Dishes are served with white truffle. Additional white truffles cost $15 a gram

Forlino

What: Forlino’s new head chef Kentaro Torii, who is Japanese, has created three items. The dishes change weekly and may include fresh Brittany scallop carpaccio with white truffle ($60); a white truffle tagliolini ($65); and a white truffle risotto ($70). Where: One Fullerton, 1 Fullerton Road, 02-06, tel: 6877-6995; open: noon to 2.30pm, 6.30 to 10.30pm daily

When: Now till the end of the month

Price: Additional shavings are priced at $25 a gram. Prices are subject to change.

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