Saturday, November 13, 2021

Truffle Hound: On the Trail of the World's Most Seductive Scent, With Dreamers, Schemers and Some Extraordinary Dogs, by Rowan Jacobsen


Bloomsbury, 2021
283 pp

hardcover (my copy from the publisher, thanks!)

Just prior to the Covid outbreak of 2020, a new restaurant opened nearby and everyone I know who went there raved about the truffle fries.  I asked one of my friends if she knew that there was nothing truffle about the fries, and she looked at me like I was out of my mind and told me about the delicious and rich truffle oil that gives them their flavor.    So now that I've finished this book, I'll be handing it over to her so that she can see for herself that her beloved truffles frites are covered in olive oil containing 2,4-dithiapentane, a synthetic chemical that offers up a "heavy-handed impression of truffleness."  Anthony Bourdain once said about truffle oil that it was "about as edible as Astroglide, and made from the same stuff."  This book, however, isn't about dispelling myths about the stuff poured over french fries to push them into the double-digit dollar zone -- it is an examination of the "dreamers, schemers, and sensualists" who in the presence of the fungi itself become "quivering puddles."  Of the real stuff, there are a variety out there -- chef and author Rowan Jacobsen mentions at the outset that "about a dozen species play prominent roles in this tale" -- of those, 
"two have starring roles: Tuber magnatum, Italy's celebrated white truffle, which is often called the Alba; and Tuber melanosporum, the queen of black truffles.."

Describing his first olfactory encounter with the white truffle , Jacobsen notes that 

"It was hardly a food scent at all.  It was more like catching a glimpse of a satyr prancing across the dining room floor while playing its flute and flashing its hindquarters at you. You think, What the hell was that? And then you think, I have to know. "

I not only love that description but I also understand  -- I've never had the pleasure to have tried the white variety but the black, well, there's this little Italian deli that carries them and they have more than once (very sparingly) graced my papardelle in shaved form.   Anyway, after that first experience with the white truffle's heavenly scent,  the author went looking to discover what he could about these prized fungi, and  found himself on a "quest" to discover what it is about truffles that has the power to turn people into the above-mentioned "quivering puddles."  Traveling throughout Europe, the UK, Canada, and various places here in the US, Jacobsen spent time with truffle hunters, their specially-trained dogs, hopeful truffle farmers and entrepreneurs looking toward the future, truffle sellers and scientists to learn all he could about these prized fungi, of which the white variety is, as he says, "the world's most expensive food."   The more he becomes involved in his quest, the more he finds himself "starting to think of truffles as the street artists of the forest, splashing smells across an airy canvas, blowing the minds of passersby." 

In Hungary:  Grand Master of the Saint Ladislaus Order of Truffle Knights, Zoltan Bratek (from my copy)

This is my first book by Jacobsen; I love his casual yet knowledgeable style of writing enough that on the strength of this one I just bought his A Geography of Oysters even though I despise them.  Even if you don't like food writing (or truffles for that matter),  there is much to enjoy in Truffle Hound, especially the stories of the people Jacobsen meets and of course, the awesome dogs who are part and parcel of the experience.  This is a good book, and I can most certainly recommend it.  

With apologies to Nicole at Bloomsbury for taking forever to finish this book, I offer my sincere thanks for the lovely, finished copy.  

No comments:

Post a Comment