I don’t think I’m the most creative person in the world, but I do have lots of ideas. Most of them are very mediocre and often focused narrowly on how I can explain being late for work again, or why I didn’t call my sister, but very occasionally I’ll have a good idea. Marrying my wife was about the best of these handful of good ideas so far, but other gems include putting a roll of toilet paper in the refrigerator before heading out for some pints and an Indian meal, and smuggling various hard-to-find and expensive European comestibles into the United States after vacations.
Last year, among the many beautiful and delicious places we visited was the affluent and storied Piedmontese town of Alba. The countryside surrounding Alba is literally bursting with good things – Barolo, Barbaresco, Barbera and Dolcetto wines, thermal and freshwater springs, and multifarious game, but the town’s most famous product, and rightly so, is the white truffle. Though we only stopped in to Alba for an all-too-brief visit, we wanted to make the most of our time there. So, after a gentle stroll around admiring the architecture, we quickly got down to brass tacks. We scoured the town for its famous food & beverage products, and either ate or drank them on the spot or purchased some to consume later, or both. In one store we bought bottles of the four principal varieties of local wines, and in another we bought a small jar of strawberry-sized black truffles, a 100ml vial of truffle oil (complete with small lump of white truffle), a 50ml squeezy-tube of white truffle puree, and another small jar of white truffle mousse. It was a targeted strike of almost military precision and I am very proud that we were so single-minded about it, especially after a bottle of wine and a large lunch. Indeed, now that we’re back in the US, where Albanese products are not only scarce but terrifyingy-priced, I am even more delighted with the foresight and commitment we demonstrated that day.
Of all the good ideas out there, two of the best (at least in my opinion) are: the thought that whatever the soil-coated, lumpy tumescence was that a pig was urgently digging up at the base of an oak tree was worth further investigation; and the thought of using said ugly growth to flavor butter. I should add that neither of those ideas were mine, yet I support them both vigorously. It is clear to me now that while pigs are not always particularly discerning in their choice of foodstuff – and I do not take many of my dietary decisions based on their proclivities – they make an extraordinarily good choice when they choose to root for truffles. And, if you’ve never eaten a truffle before, I am hereby going on the record and saying that they are as good as people say they are, probably better. They are one of the best things I have ever put in my mouth and I enjoy them more each time I have them. Potentially, they are the basis for a lasting and bankrupting addiction.
However, we weren’t able to come away from Alba with quite the volume of truffles and truffle-products that I would have liked, and sadly, I doubt that we’ll manage to make them last until we’re able to visit the town again. But instead of dwelling on this maudlin fact, we decided to make the most of what we had brought back with us and recently treated ourselves to a slap-up steak dinner that celebrated our Albanese truffles appropriately. We prepared a black & white truffle compound butter to go with our (perfectly-cooked) steak, and the result was possibly the richest and most decadent thing I could have imagined (see recipe below).
If you come across some reasonably-priced truffles anywhere, buy them. If you find any truffles anywhere, in fact, buy them, even if it requires some complex re-financing of other property. You will not regret it. If you can’t find truffles, or have nothing of worth to mortgage, you can make compound butters out of all kinds of things. Previously, we’ve made one with garlic and tarragon, and it was pretty darn delicious, and apparently, crushed walnuts and a dash of walnut oil are also very acceptable. I would suggest you make at least one kind of compound butter very soon to top your favorite cut of steak. It’s exceedingly good.
Black & White Truffle Compound Butter
1 stick unsalted, softened butter
1 small black truffle, chopped or shaved finely
1 tbsp white truffle paste
pinch of black pepper
Allow butter to soften out of fridge until very pliable. Unwrap it and put it in a mixing bowl. Add the truffles. Get your favorite wooden spoon and cream butter and truffles together until thoroughly combined. Take a spatula and scoop butter into a piece of plastic wrap leaving at least an inch of room at the ends. Roll-up butter in wrap and twist at ends to tighten wrap around butter. You should have something that resembles a short, wide sausage. Place compound butter wrap in freezer for 25 minutes before using it to allow it to set up. Slicing it onto your steak is also easier if butter is almost frozen. [If you're not intending to eat the butter immediately, you can just place it in the fridge.] Slice rounds of truffled butter onto your warm steak or potatoes and enjoy!