White truffles, the underground fungi lauded for their delicate taste, may cost a fortune but chefs and connoisseurs in Italy, a major growing region, say they are best twinned with simple, peasant food.
White truffles, also known as the kings' food or kitchen diamonds, crown menus of haute cuisine restaurants around the world but rather than gourmet garnishing, chefs suggest bread, pasta and potatoes bring out the best of white truffles.
"It is traditional dishes, not fancy ones, that make truffle stand out. Nothing should dominate the aroma of truffle," said Tino Colla, truffle lover and maker of top-shelf red wine Barolo from Piemonte, Italy's white truffle heartland.
His best choice is to sprinkle a few marble-like truffle shavings over fried eggs, pasta tagliatelle, cheese fondue or raw veal from Piemonte, Colla said at a truffle tasting in a luxury hotel in Milan as truffle season was in full swing.
Sergio Mei Tomasi, Italy's Chef of the Year in 1998, added scrambled eggs, thin noodles tagliolini, risotto with Parmigiano, mashed potato, veal chops and meat salad to the list of dishes which go best with truffles.
"To make truffle stand out the dishes should be succulent, based on cheese, cream, butter. It is important that they are steaming, because the heat helps to bring out the aroma," Mei said. Each of the four main truffle growing regions of Italy has its own truffle specialties. The same goes for the wines which accompany a truffle meal.
If you are in the northern region of Piemonte, your best bet would be its famous full-bodied reds Barolo, Barbaresco or Dolcetto d'Alba, Mei said.
If you move south, to Italy's wine heart of Tuscany, locals would advise you to chase a steak of local Chianina beef spruced with truffles down with famous reds Brunello di Montalcino or Nobile di Montepulciano.
"The link between local wine and truffles is natural. They grow on the same soil," Colla said. The wine accompanying truffles should be "structured, well-balanced, elegant and not aggressive," he added.
Fragrant white wines would also go down well with truffles, some chefs said.
Mei created a sumptuous dinner menu at Milan's Four Seasons hotel where every course — from a creamy codfish pate, to tagliolini noodles, to a deer loin, to ice cream — was richly spruced with white truffle.
A six-course dinner with a wide choice of premium Barolo was priced at 155 euros ($194.1).
Tight supplies of white truffles this year has driven prices to above 4,000 euros ($5,050) per one kg (2.205 lb). The white truffles grow only naturally in forests, unlike black truffles which can be cultivated on plantations.