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January 2015 / Cover Story
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Remarkably, "The diamond in every kitchen" is not a luxurious utensil or design feature, it's actually the rather ordinary looking black truffle! Charcoal or soil-like in appearance, black truffles are unbelievably precious. While they may not look very appealing, they actually boast a rich and fascinating smell and flavour that can transform even the humblest dish into a noble delicacy whose layered tastes are a feast in every sense. As truffles grow only in very specific areas, they are difficult to find and almost impossible for modern scientists to plant artificially. Ultimately, there are just a handful of places worldwide which produce tiny amounts of truffles annually. As black truffles develop mold very quickly, they can normally only be kept fresh for around a week.
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While dusting off surface soil, wrapping the truffle in paper and storing it in a vacuum flask may maintain freshness a little longer, it's always best to cook and eat truffles as soon as possible. From initially searching for truffles to transforming them into amazing dishes is a dramatic race against time that adds to the delicacy's appeal for master chefs and finicky gourmands the whole world over!

Truffles have been mentioned in writings dating back as far as the ancient Greek or Roman empires. Back then, a plant with no roots, stems nor leaves must have been one of nature's biggest mysteries. Around 2,000 years ago, black truffles became a much loved indulgence among the Roman anti-popes and European nobles. 
Truffles are mainly found in and around Mediterranean areas such as Montferrand-du-Périgord and Monclar-de-Quercy in France, and Umbria in Italy. While both black and white truffles are popular, white truffles are limited to parts of Italy and Croatia where they only grow under pines. As white truffles are much tougher to find than black ones, they are also far more expensive. Ultimately, the price of summer black truffles is around US$200 per kg, while in winter the per kg price can reach as high as US$2,000. The more precious white truffles often fetch winter prices of around US$4,000 per kg.
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As they lack the roots, stems and leaves needed to conduct photosynthesis, truffles cannot survive alone and are heavily reliant on nutrients provided by the roots of trees such as pines, birches, oaks, poplars or filberts. 
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The conditions for growing truffles is very strict and very precise levels of soil acidity and humidity are essential for their survival. As they are extremely hard to grow, truffles are ultimately incredibly valuable. Worse still, if a truffle is inappropriately extracted, its surrounding soil structure will be destroyed and no further truffles will grow there again for around two years.
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Although truffles are concealed by soil, their delicious aromas are very hard to hide. When humanity first started to hunt truffles they took along female pigs because of their outstanding olfactory systems. Legend has it that female pigs were such good hunters because truffles' aroma was similar to that o f male porkers! Whether this story is fact or fiction, female pigs really do adore truffles. The big challenge is stopping them from eating each truffle they find. That's why truffle hunters eventually began training dogs as replacements. When a hound smells a truffle, it "tells" its master by using its front limbs , enabling the careful digging out of the "diamond" beneath the soil.

Individual truffle hunters are only permitted to work in a certain area of a mountain or range between 5th January and 30th September each year. On each visit, it is only allowed to bring two big and one small hounds and to pick a maximum of 2kgs of truffles. Truffles are usually found in dark, damp soil that quickly dries when exposed to the sun. 
As a result, truffle hunters have to avoid working in strong sunlight and re-flatten each piece of soil they dig up in order to protect future truffles. Given the huge effort involved in finding them, it is hardly surprising truffles are so expensive to buy. While truffle hunter licenses can be passed from generation to generation, those inheriting them must still pass a detailed hunters' exam to ensure they have the knowledge to protect hunting grounds. Currently, there are around 200,000 truffle hunters in the whole of Italy, even the most experienced of whom are subject to stringent regulations.

As truffle growing and hunting is so limited in terms of both time and space, not every hunter is able to bring his or her hounds along to the mountains to hunt. Italian truffle hunting areas are protected from human destruction, by the fact that all hunters must go to class and pass an exam before they can earn a hunting permit.
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Even when one fully understands just how limited and precious truffles really are, choosing the best items from a wide selection is a tough task! From visiting truffle production areas, persuading sellers to part with the best truffles at a good price and then transporting them to Hong Kong, every single step is a huge challenge requiring extensive experience and knowledge. To this end, we have invited city'super's truffle buyer, Ivy Tsang to share some of her secrets!
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C :city'super        I:IVY TSANG

C : How long have you been buying truffles professionally? 
I : I began purchasing truffles for city'super and our customers in 2007. 

C : What qualities do you need to be a good truffle buyer? 
I : You have to know many suppliers and have communication skills to get close to them. The passion to fulfill clients' needs is also vital! 

C : What's the major difference between buying truffles and other foodstuffs? 
I : As the truffle season is over so quickly, we have to be ready to contact clients at very short notice when truffles become available. As truffles go "off" so rapidly, we must deliver them equally speedily. It really is a race against time! 
C : What are your typical job duties? 
I : Aside from going to different countries to buy truffles during various times of year, I have to liaise between overseas sellers and potential customers in Hong Kong. 

C : What characteristics distinguish a truly great truffles? 
I : We rate truffles' quality according to their freshness, colour, aroma and size. The ones that look strong and less broken are the best buys. 

C : Where do you purchase most truffles? 
I : White truffles are only found in Italy and Croatia. Whereas, you can find black truffles in not only Italy, but also France, Spain, Australia and even Yunnnan over the border in China! Actually, many countries provide good quality truffles. 
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C : Any interesting or unforgettable memories you can share with us? 
I : Having been to many growing areas, I now know how truffles sheltering under various types of trees have different colours. I've also discovered that many customers believe white truffles bearing the intrustion mark of pine trees are more tasty. To be honest, I've still not figured that one out! 

C : What's the most you've ever paid for a batch of truffles? Where did you buy and why was the price so high? 
I : The price of white truffles has been going up every year. In 2011 I bought an ultra-rare 500g white alva truffle - the biggest ever seen in Italy - for around HK$50,000. 

C : What's the real attraction of truffles? 
I : Their aroma is strong, intense and unique and makes any dish seem more appetizing. They're also incredibly rare and precious. 

C : What's the best way to cook truffles? 
I : After your food is cooked, slice few slices of truffles on top. The food's heat will activate the truffles' special smell and enhance the flavour of your meal immeasurably. 
Culinary artisty is all about getting the best out of ingredients in terms of taste, aroma and look. 
Prepared by Italian master chef Ugo Alciati, creamy carnaroli rice with white truffles makes truffles truly shine as "the diamond in every kitchen". 
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Steps for Creamy Carnaroli Rice with White Truffle :

1. Clean your anchovies and marinate them in extra virgin olive oil.
2. Melt butter in a pan over medium heat and then add the carnaroli rice. Sauté the rice grains in butter for about 1 minute.
3. Cook the risotto by adding one ladle of broth at a time. Continue stirring, adding more broth only after the previous ladleful had been absorbed.
4. The risotto should be completely cooked in roughly 16 minutes. When the grains are al dente, remove from the heat, add the anchovy plus a few shavings of white truffle and serve. 
Carnaroli rice
Meat or vegetable broth
Parmigiano reggiano cheese
Anchovy fillets
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Truffles are famed for being "the diamond in every kitchen" because of their extrodinary frangrance and rarity due to their notorious difficulty to cultivate. People are so mesmerized because many of us have simply never had the chance to try them! Fortunately, truffles' frangrance is so seductive that it is now used to enhance widely-used products such as olive oil, pasta and truffle sauce many of us use everyday.
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Black Truffle Porcini Fettucine

Formulated from an irresistible blend of summer tuber aestivum vitt, finest porcini and natural durum wheat, this easy to cook handmade fettucine possesses an amazing black truffle aroma and distinctive porcini flavour that delights the tastebuds.
Black Truffle Virgin Olive Oil

A blissful marriage of "the most aromatic king of black truffles", the winter black truffle or tuber melanosporum vitt and the finest Olio Extravergine di olive virgin olive oil, this dish emits a pleasant Mediterranean aroma that brings out the best of black truffles and tastes wonderful with thick soup, salad, pasta or bread.
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Italian Stainless Steel Truffle Slicer

Italian Olive Wood Truffle Slicer

Both slicers are perfect for easily and smoothly slicing truffles on to the top of your finely prepared pasta. Evenly sliced truffles will add rich aromas to whatever delicacies you prepare in your kitchen.
Dried White Truffle Slices

The season for truffles is so short that keeping them fresh is vital! Dried white truffle slices are a perfect choice for foodies who wish to enjoy the taste of white truffles all year round. Just add the dried slices while cooking and every meal will taste like its come from the kitchen of a 5-star restaurant!
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Black Truffle Mushroom Ready-To-Eat Polenta

A much loved Italian culinary tradition, polenta mixes black truffles with cream, butter and salt. Simply add hot stock or water and your aromatic black truffle polenta-style thick porridge is ready to eat anytime!
Black Truffle Caviar

This caviar-like paste is made from a winter black truffle sauce extract whose rich taste perfectly accomapanies smoked salmon, toast or cheese.
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