The Alba white truffle , Italian white truffle or also called Piedmontese white truffle is the most exclusive and appreciated truffle variety. We are not dealing with one of nature's defects. It is a proper species, identified as such in 1788 by an Italian scientist, listening to the surname Pico.
The white truffle, just like all other truffles, is a type of hypogea (underground) mushroom of the Ascomycota family, inside the Tuber genus. Its scientific name is Tuber Magnatum, which comes from the Latin word "magnatus", "of the lords", due to its high price.
The mystery which surrounds this truffle is equal to the expectation it produces in the gastronomic world. It is a product of high economic value and limited production, which is mainly grown in the wild.
The efforts, made in Italy during the seventies and eighties of the 20th century, to obtain harvested specimen, did not give the desired results, this variety being more difficult to cultivate than the black winter truffle.
Its name comes from the colour of its meat or pulp, which varies from marble white to light brown. A complex network of white veins runs through its insides, giving its cross section a marble-like aspect.
Very often, we are asked "why are they so expensive?", "why do they only exist in Italy?" or "why can they not be grown on a plantation?" The answers are just as interesting as the questions.
In first place, the price is a variable factor, depending on offer and demand, but apart from this important aspect, the true price of this truffle is determined by its extraordinary aroma and its volatility. The white truffle can only be found from October to December if the vintage is good, but within this period, the real high season is limited to only two months. During this time, consumers are on the look and will offer high prices so they can appreciate its pungent aroma and peculiar flavour, but this can only be enjoyed by the happy few. Each white truffle is different, unique. Depending on their area of origin and the tree which hosted them, their aroma and flavour will be different, an aspect which is valued by the consumer and will revalue the product. The white truffle or Tuber Magnatum is the fruit of a plant called Mycelium, which is a type of fungus. The so-called Mycelium, in order to survive underground, will associate with the roots of some tree types. In the case of the white truffle, these trees are the lime tree, the poplar, the oak, the beech, the willow and the hazel. This convenience relationship is called symbiosis. To achieve optimum quality, the Tuber Magnatum needs a favourable climate, since it requires more hydrated or humid soils than other truffle species.
In second place, it can be found mainly in Italy, and in some other countries bordering the Adriatic Sea, but in much lower quantity and quality. Production of quality specimen is concentrated in the northwest of Italy, in the provinces of Cuneo and Alessandria, in the Piedmont region.
The reason for this location or specific site has prehistoric origins. All truffles need a very specific natural habitat. If only one parameter is not to its liking, the truffle will simply not grow in this area. The white truffle is not exception to the rule, and its very specific requirements include a particular type of soil or land. Studies, performed during the 20th century, have shown that the white truffle can only be obtained in soil types which were created during the Cenozoic or Tertiary Era and more in particular during the Miocene period, some fifteen million years ago. These soil types are calcareous with presence of marlstone, clay and organic substances, located at an altitude between 400 and 800 meters above sea level.
The answer to the third question, on its reproduction on a plantation, lies in the special shape of its spores, which are the reproductive organs. These spores don't have the classic sharp points like other spore types like those of the black truffle, and in this case, these sharp points are covered by membranes which prevent their adhesion to the seed of the future host tree. This means that the future tree, presently an acorn, will not grow with the mycorrhiza phase already completed, since the white truffle spores are, in most cases, incapable of growing on the seed. The perfect bonding or mycorrhiza needs to be done at that time to make it possible for the truffles to develop a few years later, when the tree grows. When the white truffle spores germinate, they need to be on the host plant, and not in the soil. Other parallel processes such as grafting in the root to succeed the mycorrhiza or bonding between mycelium cells and the host tree roots have been as good as abandoned.
If this bonding is not made, the mycelium development will be complicated or even made impossible.
Nature and time complete this phase, at this time almost impossible to be performed by man using artificial means. This important fact leaves the bulk of with truffle production in nature's hands, and not in those of man who has, until now, not achieved significant progress in this type of crop. Therefore, at this moment, the most direct consequence of this situation is the high price still to be paid for the queen of truffles.
Regarding the nutritional features and chemical composition of the white truffle, we can state that it basically contains 79% of water, 16% of proteins (of which 8% pure or of great nutritional value), gauzes 0.45%, ash content 1.8%. Within the proteins, the following amino acids need to be highlighted: Isoleucine, Leucine, Valine, Cystine, Phenylalanine, Tyrosine, Threonine, Tryptophan, Lysine, Histidine and Arginine.
Moreover, it contains twelve different types of minerals, among which K20, Na20 y P205.
The city of Alba, in Piedmont (Italy), the undisputed international capital of the white truffle, houses on October Saturdays and Sundays the famous truffle market, where you can buy the precious "jewel", bargaining prices and snooping between checkered handkerchiefs in which they are wrapped.
At the Alba market, in the period of the National Truffle Fair , the quality of the displayed products is inspected by a commission of experts.
Form the gastronomic point of view, it hasn't met his match. It needs to be used raw, since it doesn't tolerate cooking very well. The white truffle is served raw, cut into thin slices with a special cutter, preferably on hot dishes and light sauces. It is important to note that it should best be used on dishes where no strong aromas prevail, since the Tuber Magnatum needs to play the leading role.
Its most traditional use is the one of its origins, in Italy, which is why it is ideal with the "Fonduta", on fresh pasta, preferably egg tagliatelle, in rice "alla piemontese", in "risotto", on top of carpaccio, dressing a salad of boletus (Boletus Edulis) "ceps" and Caesar's mushroom "ou de reig" (Amanita Caesarea), or simply on top of some fried eggs.
As such, we have a species which is difficult to reproduce by man's hands, growing spontaneously in a very specific habitat, over a short season which goes from mid-October till the end of December, with an intense aroma and flavour, and generally with important differences between on truffle and another. The answer to the question "why is there such a big demand" is therefore easy to understand, bearing in mind that it is also highly perishable and volatile.
Trufas Rius is an expert in White Truffle, imported from Italy since 1995 for the Spanish and European market. Check buy white truffle.