Truffles have long been known in the culinary world as the “diamond of the kitchen.” It is perhaps the most expensive, and most sought-after food in the world, and is held in high esteem in French, Italian, Greek, Croatian, Middle Eastern and Spanish cooking. The word truffle comes from the Latin word tuber which means “lump” or “swelling.” The Italians refer to the truffle as tartufo, the French as truffle and the Spanish as trufa.
Truffles are a fungus which grow at the base of several tree species in Europe, where they are found buried in between leaves and the rich European soil. The truffles are said to form a symbiotic relationship within the root system of the trees. Animals such as pigs and dogs “hunt” for these culinary delicacies, although dogs have become more prevalent since pigs are attracted to truffles, and have been known to eat their findings.
The most expensive truffle is the white truffle or “trifola d’Alba Madonna,” which can be found in several regions in Italy as well as in areas of Croatia and France. White truffles are extremely aromatic, and are at their ripest in fall. It has been known that white truffles have sold from $1000 to close to $4000 per pound. One two-pound truffle sold for $300,000. Because of the high cost of these truffles, the truffle trade can be a very dangerous business. Hunters have been known to steal truffles and sell them on the black market. Even the truffle-sniffing dogs have been known to mysteriously disappear.
The black truffle is the second most popular species of truffles and grows with oak and hazelnut trees. They are harvested in late autumn and early winter. The black summer truffle can be found across Europe and is extremely popular in European-style or haute cuisine cooking, as is the black burgundy or winter truffle.
At Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas in Garden City, executive chef Ryan Keough embraces the truffle twice a year by hosting a two-week truffle festival, which takes place in the spring and late fall. During that time, customers can order a five-course meal where truffles are incorporated into each dish. The meal can also be paired with wine. The truffles are imported by Sabatino Tartufi from Umbria, Italy, and are hand-shaved tableside by the chef. Due to the popularity of this event, Spuntino has been offering the festivals for the past four years.
During the spring festival black summer truffles are used, which are a bit more subdued than the burgundy or winter truffle which is served in the fall. According to chef Keough, the summer truffles have a slight sweetness to them, and a chocolatey quality. The burgundy truffle has a strong aroma but a delicate texture, which is perfect for shaving on top of dishes.
This year’s Truffle Festival at Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas takes place from May 8 to May 28. Menu items include a filet mignon crudo with fennel, arugula, truffle oil and shaved black truffles; crispy polenta with wild mushroom ragu, pecorino tartufo and shaved summer truffles; crab and asparagus cannelloni with truffle cream, tarragon oil and grated black truffles; grilled skirt steak with truffle butter braised leeks and micro greens in a pinot nero reduction, and finally for dessert, a dark chocolate budino made with black truffle whipped cream and Amarena cherries. The tasting menu is $55 per person and can be paired with wine for an additional $20 per person. Menu selections are also available a la carte.
“As an Italian restaurant, it made sense to have these festivals,” said Keough. “It really brings the true flavors of Italy to our customers. Like everything at Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas, the idea for our Truffle Festival was a collaborative effort among our team.”
Spuntino Wine Bar & Italian Tapas is open Monday – Thursday from 11:30 a.m. to 12:00 a.m. Friday and Saturday from 11:30 a.m. to 1:00 a.m. and on Sundays from 11:30 a.m. to 11:00 p.m.