Last month my wine group had a reunion with a selection of Barbarescos and Baroli, the last bottles in our club cellar. I was asked to organize the wine program for our Piemonte dinner party for 12.
The finest wine pairing with aged Barolo is with the white truffles of Alba. Since we were in the middle of white truffle season, I really wanted some on our table. I'd been monitoring global prices and comments on this season's quality for more than a month. However, this has been an atypical year. Consumer demand had shot up prices to as much as 2 to 4X the level in 2019. And quality was deemed merely “average”. Still, I got excited when my favored source, Urbani, discounted by 46% one weekend making this luxury a little more affordable and easier to justify. But then checking again, the price had climbed back up to $700+ for 3 ounces. What to do?
Fortunately, one friend who used to live in italy had read the email laying out my dilemma called me to talk it over. He felt three ounces of white truffle would be excessive, saying "this is a wine tasting, not a truffle tasting". So we backed down the proposal to 2 ounces of truffle for a cost of about $500 or $42 per person if we have a full table of 12. This would still be plenty to shave over risotto for an amount of truffle that would cost about $80 per person in a restaurant setting. If they were great truffles, that would be more than enough to have a good experience. And if they were not, then we'd limited our expenditure.
One of our members was in Torino two weeks earlier. He said that the Alba truffles he was served there had no scent at all, but at another restaurant in La Morra, the adjoining table had a very fragrant order. And I'd heard from others that this has been a hit and miss year.
We went with the small size for the lower price per ounce. I'd been in contact with a friend who buys Alba truffles regularly for home use about any quality differences based on size. he said that the larger truffles make a more visually attractive shaved slice with less odd size bits remaining. He felt freshness was a bigger factor than size. He recommended going for the lower prices considering the extreme price inflation this season.
The day we ordered, the price was discounted 22% from the earlier peak price. I provided a new customer code to the hostess who would order and receive the overnight shipment, which knocked 10% off her first order. She ordered before Thursday at noon, expecting the delivery to arrive the next day, so we wouldn't have to deal with it Saturday, the day of the party. But Urbani had unexpected demand and said the shipment would arrive on Saturday. Good thing we built in that one extra day buffer! Also, to me it meant that we would be getting very fresh product. The next morning, the hostess received an email from Urbani that the shipment would arrive on Monday. Then a few minutes later, another email saying the order would be delivered on Saturday. We didn't know what to think, and it was a relief Saturday morning when tracking said the package was in Petaluma, 30 miles away.
I happened to be at their house, checking on the Baroli that had been uncorked the night before, when the box was delivered Saturday morning. I was beyond nervous to unpack the shipping box. As soon as we unwrapped the plastic sleeve around the inner box holding the bag of truffles, we could smell the powerful scent. We lucked out!
A call had gone out to the group asking if anyone had truffle slicers or did I need to find one. You know you have the right friends when two of seven households offered to bring their truffle shavers along with a micro-scale. The Alba truffles topped a porcini risotto.
In case anyone else is trying to decide about truffle dinners or buying Alba truffles to serve at home this season, I wanted to share how we made our decision. With so little information available for a seasonal product, it was not easy to do, so maybe this helps someone else.
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