It began with a charitable deed. At a recent American Institute of Wine and Food (AIWF) fundraiser, I successfully bid on a silent auction lot titled “Truffle Quest.” The evening was generously donated by John Magazino, president and founder of Primizie, a vibrant NYC specialty food distributor. John is one of America’s leading purveyors of white and black truffles from Europe. During the fall truffle season, he visits many of NYC’s top restaurants three or four days or nights a week, selling and delivering truffles. With portable small weight scales and handwritten sales notes, these transactions look like movie screen drug deals. In this case, the “high” is legal.
White truffles are rare, valuable and sought after by food connoisseurs around the world. The most prized ones come from the Piedmont region of Italy. They are hunted for and harvested at night, by local foragers with trained pigs or dogs. The hunt happens at night to increase the odds that the harvester’s successful sites will stay a secret, and perhaps to hide the yield from the local taxation authorities. Once found, truffles go to consolidators who hustle to the airport. From the woods in Italy, to a plate in Manhattan, the commute often takes place in only 24 to 48 hours.
The supply of truffles is slowly decreasing due to civilizations’ encroachment on woods and forests where truffles grow. In many cases, the intrusion comes from vineyards that are expanding their acreage. Meanwhile, even with a recession, demand is increasing as the newly wealthy elite in places like Dubai, China and Macau want their share of this fragrant fungus. Accordingly, truffle prices are sky high. This year, in the U.S., prices were about $3,000 a pound. John and Primizie sell truffles for $198 per ounce on his website.
On this fun evening, John, his assistant Natalie, ICE Director of Education Richard Simpson and I went to three restaurants. In the kitchen at Eleven Madison Park we raved over two dishes, Soft Poached Eggs with Egg Zabaione and Agnolotti Fontina Valdosta with Chestnut Foam, both topped with white truffles. At Marea, we were delighted to have fresh Tagliatelle Beurre Fonduta with white truffles. And to round out the meal, we sat in the dining room at Locanda Verde and had an oversized grilled filet of beef smothered with freshly shaved black truffles from Provence. All in all, a food experience to remember!