Interview: Giorgio Locatelli on Truffles

02 Dec 2011

Ahlan! Gourmet caught up with Locatelli to talk truffles - the foodstuff of the rich and tasteful

Commanding a hefty price tag of US$3,000 upwards per kilo, the white truffle is not your average ingredient. But when Michelinstarred chef Giorgio Locatelli flew into Dubai with white truffle in hand, Gourmet went for a sniff at his trattoria, Ronda Locatelli at Atlantis the Palm.

As a wild fungus, the ground where these truffles grow must include plenty of trees so they can absorb water and mineral salts through their roots. Each tree gives the truffle a slightly different flavour, to the point you can distinguish whether it has grown close to an oak, poplar, lime, willow or cherry tree. So rare are they that trifolao (truffle hunters) and their specially trained retriever dogs are used to sniff them out.

Ronda Locatelli is serving up white truffles all month long, with eleven specially created dishes, but you can also buy them directly from the restaurant and recreate Giorgio’s recipes at home. The aroma is so potent that the white truffle should be used very simply, without competing flavours – slice it thinly or grate to release more volatile compounds.

We grabbed a few minutes with Giorgio to discuss all things truffle.

You’re from Corgeno, close to Alba. Is that why you’re so passionate about white truffles?
I have this great emotional attachment to them. It’s possibly one of the first food memories and it was very special. We wouldn’t get sent to school [on the first day of truffle season], and my dad would put us in his Fiat and drive us to Alba and we would wait at this petrol station while he bought this truffle; it looked like he was dealing drugs! The car would smell like crazy. My mother and my grandmother would have the risotto ready at home. We would clean the truffle and grate it over the risotto. That would be our meal just once a year and it would be so special.

There has to be an emotional value for you to pass this [affection] on to someone. We work in London with a lot of schools, along with Jamie Oliver. The kids have a little back garden, and when they see it grow, it develops their natural understanding of food.

So the white truffles you have brought here to Dubai come from Umbria, not Alba - why?
Alba has created a stock market of the white truffle but it grows all the way to Umbria and Basilica. If you’re in London and buying from a dealer you don’t know what you will get. So we still source from Alba sometimes, but we have a good relationship with the San Pietro a Pettine estate in Umbria, and we know the truffles we receive are excellent. When you are spending that kind of money, you really want to know where it’s coming from.

Explain the white truffle season to us.
You need a licence to pick truffles and you can only pick from 25 September. Sometimes this is wrong because the roots from the year before may generate faster. You are allowed in the woods earlier than that without the dogs, but not to pick. So a trifolao with a good nose will find them without the dog.

The truffles here at Ronda were picked the day before travelling here. In two days, a white truffle can lose 20% of its weight because it loses moisture. I always send one of my boys to accompany the trifolao, it’s such a ceremonial ritual. You cannot shave or wear any cologne as this will distract the dogs.

What’s the difference between white and black truffles?
My grandfather used to say black truffles were potatoes gone wrong. Let the French have the black truffle [and as Italians we can keep the white!]. The quantity of black truffle is higher and hence it’s cheaper.

Giorgio’s tips for using white truffles

  • Do not clean the mud off or brush the white truffle until you want to use it, so that it retains its moisture.
  • Wrap each truffle in a piece of kitchen paper and keep in an air-tight container in the fridge.
  • When ready to use it, wash gently by hand in a bowl of water.
  • A truffle will last up to 15 days.

Giorgio’s truffle buying tips

  • A red streak means the truffle was attached to an oak tree, and has a sharper and stronger flavour, so buy it!
  • It should feel like the same weight of a stone of the same size. If it’s too heavy it could be swollen with water that will make it rot.
  • At least 50% is in the smell and the rest is in the taste.

INFO: For dinner reservations or to purchase white truffles, call Ronda Locatelli, 04 4262626.