The Food Almanac: Thursday, May 2, 2013

It's Truffle Day!
Wikimedia Commons/ moimeme

Today's Flavor 
It is Truffle Day. Let's quickly note that chocolate truffles--the rich confections of chocolate and cream--only look like a real truffles. A true truffle is the fruiting body of one of a large family of mushrooms. Most of the fungus the hairlike underground mycelia that collect nourishment from decomposing plant matter. Instead of sending up a toadstool to spread its spores, the kind of fungus that makes truffles grows a dense nodule, usually on or near the roots of a tree. These nodules emit an attractive aroma that causes animals to dig them up and eat them, distributing the spores in the process.

The aroma is what makes certain truffles so valuable. It's similar to that of the sexual pheromone of the animals who like them. Including people. This is most true of white truffles from northern Italy. In season (the fall), pigs and dogs can easily smell them out, even though they're several inches underground. The human olfactory sense isn't as acute, but up close we pick up the smell frequency of these things. The reason seems to be that it fires off brain cells involved in our finding a mate. Which is why they have such allure.

Black truffles also are European. The best come from the Perigord region of France, where the cuisine includes many dishes involving truffles. They're more subtle than the white truffles, and while they don't elicit as strong basic animal response, they're very good if they're fresh. When they're not, they taste like nothing at all.

Attempts to cultivate truffles have not born much fruit. They taste more like dirt to us than anything else. In France and Italy, the location of the truffle-producing mushrooms is a secret that a father will not even impart to his son, save on his deathbed.

Deft Dining Rule #466
If a dish said to contain truffles is not significantly more expensive than similar truffle-free dishes on the menu, you will not be able to detect the truffle flavor or aroma in it.

Gourmet Gazetteer
Bonito, New Mexico is eighty-two miles west of Roswell, in the wooded mountains just north of the Mescalero Apache Indian Reservation. It's a small village of about a dozen buildings near a creek. Upstream is the manmade Bonito Lake, where none of the namesake saltwater fish will be found "bonito" means "pretty." The nearest place to eat is at La Sierra Mexican restaurant, four miles away in Alto. There's also a major Anasazi ruins in northwest New Mexico called Bonito Puebla. It's over a thousand years old.

Edible Dictionary
biscotti, n., plural, Italian--The word means "cooked twice" in Italian, and that tells much about it. Biscotti are sweet breads that are first baked normally. The resulting flat, loaf-like pastry is sliced into pieces about an inch thick, and baked a second time at a lower temperature, such that they dry out completely. The original idea was to make a bread that Roman soldiers could carry with them for long periods of time. Over the centuries, biscotti evolved into cookie-like pastries that are traditionally dunked into vin santo (the oxidized, late-harvest, high-alcohol "wine of the saints"). That's the Italian tradition, anyway. In this country biscotti are most often enjoyed with coffee. They're flavored with anise, sesame seeds, or dry icings here. "Biscotti" gave rise to the Franco-English word "biscuit," although the meanings are different.

High Living On The High Seas
Today in 1969, the Queen Elizabeth II departed London on her maiden voyage to New York. The age of transatlantic travel by ship was over, but the QE2 managed to attract passengers with its gilded service and food. By the standards of today's cruise ships, the QE2 of those days would be considered small and ordinary now--with one exception. It was the fastest large passenger ship on the seas, capable of doing over thirty-two knots. It could sail backward faster than other cruise ships can go forward. It was retired in 2009.

Annals Of Food Writing 
Good Housekeeping has always carried many articles about cooking, food buying, and kitchen techniques. It published its first edition today in 1885. Clearly aimed at women, its focus has broadened to include many matters well outside what its title might suggest. Is sex, for example, really considered part of housekeeping?

Music To Eat Hot Dogs By
"Buy me some peanuts and Cracker Jack. . . " That line is from Take Me Out To The Ballgame, by Albert von Tilzer. He registered a trademark on the song on this date in 1908.

Legends Of Wine
Julio Gallo, who began what became the world's largest winery with his brother Ernest, accidentally drove off the side of a mountain in the wine country and died today in 1995. He was 82.

Food Namesakes
Mickey Bass III, jazz composer and performer, was born today in 1943. . . Peggy Bacon, artist and printmaker, was born today in 1895. . . Actor William Bakewell hit The Big Stage today in 1908. . . Teenage actress Kay Panabaker came out of the oven in Orange, Texas today in 1990.

Words To Eat By
"If I can't have too many truffles, I'll do without truffles." --Colette.

Words To Drink By
"Wine gives a man nothing. . . it only puts in motion what had been locked up in frost."Samuel Johnson.

 
Related Links
An Enormous White Truffle Is on the Market'60 Minutes' Looks at Crazy Truffle MarketHomaro Cantu Wants to Grow French Truffles in Chicago