I usually follow the rules. Generally, I am law abiding. I am, for certain, a terrible liar. I don’t know what came over me. I succumbed to truffle madness.
While perusing a lovely food shop in the city centre in Verona, I noticed a hand written sign in Italian. To be clear, I do not speak Italian, but there are things I do understand – especially when it comes to food. TARTUFO BIANCO was written in large capital letters, something else and then several exclamation marks. My heart quickened with the realization that it was white truffle season in Italy.
“Scuzi….” I ventured….I am not even sure that’s an Italian word, but it sort of sounds Italian and a little like “excuse me”. The shopkeeper looked up. A friend had told me that this particular store does not care for tourists who simply come to look. “Tartufo bianco?” I asked, pointing to his homemade sign. He nodded. Stared at me; grimly. I had to make a decision. If I asked more questions, I’d have to buy or risk offending the proprietor. “Quisto?” I think that might be Spanish, but it’s all I had.
Note to self: I really must move ‘learn Italian’ up on my To Do list.
“40 Euros per gram.” I think he thought he was done with me; scared me off, but I persevered. In English. (I was desperate) “Can I see one?” Not cheerfully, he scuffled off to the back, brought me a perfect little white truffle, and placed it on the scale. 60 Euros. “OK.” I declared and breathed deeply. A little voice inside me (maybe it was Cam’s) was saying “Are you CRAZY??????”
“Si?” He asked sceptically.
“Si.” I replied firmly.
Suddenly he spoke English. Amazing – like divine intervention. He vacuum packed my tartufo, and told me it would keep for three weeks. He warned me against storing it in Arborio rice – it would “suck” all the goodness from the truffle. No, I was to store it in a sealed container with eggs – they would be perfumed with truffle essence without jeopardizing my little bianco. I handed over his king’s ransom and left, feeling giddy and nervous all at once.
“Am I allowed to take a truffle back to Canada?” I texted a friend who generally knows this kind of stuff. “Absulement non! Illegal!” was the terse reply. Hmm…maybe I should have enquired before making the purchase. Oh well, Tartufo Bianco was mine now, I could not abandon her. I went off to buy a truffle shaver.
Ten days later, I waited for my bag to appear on the luggage carousel at Pearson. At the exact moment my bag dropped onto the belt, a customs agent and his trusty sniffer dog appeared. I strained to ‘look’ for my bag, even as it passed right by me. I was trying to be nonchalant, but beads of perspiration were trickling down my face. My heart was pounding. Damn the impetuous moment when I purchased that truffle. I was going to be put behind bars for truffle smuggling, never see my husband or children again, and the worst part would be that I would never get to taste my beloved fresh white truffle. The customs officer approached, dog in hand.
My suitcase went round the carousel again.
The dog started sniffing my boots, my pants, my purse. Could he smell truffle essence on me? Or even worse, could he smell fear? Does fear smell like white truffles? I smiled, and continued to ‘look’ for my bag. As soon as the truffle busting duo were out of my site, I grabbed my bag off the carousel. Half running-half walking, trying to be cool – I was a complete wreck as I hightailed it through the customs hall. What was I thinking? Why did I do this? Is a plate of risotto really worth all of this? Never. Again. Never!!
Once outside, there was instant relief. I definitely should have bought two truffles. And maybe next time I should try to bring back a leg of prosciutto. I would definitely need a bigger suitcase. With a smell proof exterior to fool the sniffer dog.
In my truffle dreams, I planned to create some sort of epic meal centred around my little Italian friend. I would go through my collection of cookbooks, craft the menu, select the perfect wines….it would be a wonderful dinner to commemorate both my bravery and my brush with the law. I opened up the truffle for a closer look.
It was no longer white. It was brown. It smelled divine but it looked really odd. OK. It might have had a little mould on it. Mould!
I Googled ‘how should a fresh white truffle look’ and ‘how to tell if a white truffle has gone bad’ – with no results. Drastic action had to be taken. My truffle could wait for neither the perfect menu nor the perfect night. Bianco could not stand by while I recovered from my jetlag – I felt certain she was on her last legs. I declared a truffle 911. This thing had to be enjoyed. STAT.
That night I made risotto. An incredibly simple risotto. Aquerello rice. (only the best for my truffle) Rich chicken stock. Generous amounts of butter and Parmigiano Reggiano cheese. And truffle. Sweet, fragrant, decadent, contraband truffle. I used the entire thing. All 60 euros worth. And we enjoyed every illicit forkful. It was do divine it probably would have been worth a night in jail.
Just the other day I learned that you can in fact import a truffle as long as it is vacuum packed. Turns out, I am not a criminal after all. Just a girl who loves truffles and needs to learn the import laws. Good in a way I guess, but I kind of liked thinking of myself as a truffle ‘smuggler’.