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White Truffles

     White meat truffle, very flavourful, is harvested uniquely in the Alba region in Italy, and it is more appreciated by Italian people than by French people, and it can reach exorbitant prices (some years up to ten times the price of the black truffle).

Black Truffles

     It is the jewel of the French gastronomy : the Black Diamond of the Périgord has been at the origin of the passions of the gastronomes since the antiquity (2500 years BC in Egypt during the reign of the Pharaoh Cheops). The Greek and the Roman including Pythogore, Theophase, Plutargus, Lucius Lucullus and the well known Apicius prepared the truffles during banquets offered to Rome.

A Truffles-hunting team's hopes nose no bounds

by Mary Jo Patterson
Star-Ledger Staff

     Pasquale Scricco may be a bricklayer, but he has the patience of a saint. The zeal of a missionary. The pluck and persistence of an explorer. Like Vasco da Gama searching for a roué to India or Ponce de Leon searching for the Fountain of Youth, the 53-year-old Hopatcong resident has spent years combing New Jersey for an Italian-style white truffle: Tuber magnatum Pico. Frankly, even black would do. Over the years he's found a variety of truffles, underground mushrooms found naturally in the wild, but not any fresh or edible ones and certainly not the prized white truffle, one of the world's most expensive delicacies.

     Last year at this time Scricco and his cocker spaniel, Tartufo- that's Italian for "Truffle"- were heading to Texas to hunt truffles at a truffle farm owned by a businessman friend from New York. At that point Tartufo was New Jersey's only trained truffle-hunting dog, and one of a very few in North America. The trip came off, but, in the terms of decent truffles, it was basically a bust. "Nothing but junk," Scricco said last week. He was undeterred. His resolve to find truffles only grew. "I like to find in the wild," shrugged Scricco, a native of the Abruzzi region of Italy. "I don't like plantation, that's too lazy." He came home, got another dog, and trained him in the same fashion as Tartufo. Scricco has high hopes for the new hound, a 6-month-old brown-and-white Brittany spaniel named Leo. The original dog was sent to live with a grown son. "He's really, really smart, better then the other. I don't know, maybe he has a stronger nose," Scricco said as Leo bounded like a rabbit around his front lawn looking for pieces of buried truffle-laced sausage. Wherever the dog detected their scent, he stopped and dug furiously in the earth.

     Humans have eaten truffles since ancient times. The Romans supposedly put them in their salads. In addition to the pungent flavor they give food such as pasta and cheese, they are also valued as aphrodisiacs. Their powerful smell has been compared to everything from garlicky cheese to dirty gym socks. In Italy, Spain and France, hunters traditionally used sows to scour forests for truffles. Because the pigs loved the mushrooms and were reluctant to give them up, modern hunters have switched to dogs. They do not like to eat them. Since truffles are so hard to find, and have a very short season, growers here and abroad have tried to cultivate them on farms. Most fanciers say they taste better in wild, where they grow in symbiosis with certain trees, such as oaks or walnuts.

     Nearly every year, truffles are discovered in a new spot on Earth. Recent finds have been in Yugoslavia and China. In North America, many edible species have been documented, but European truffles reign supreme. In this country, truffles are a status food, generally important and extravagantly priced. But in Italy they are food for the workingman, and universally appreciated, according to Scricco. He would like to see truffles gain the same popularity here. "I know what people eat here-Dunkin Donuts, Quick Check," he said. (He and wife, Angie, breakfast on truffle shavings on toast.) "But other people, they wanted to have a good taste once in a while. In Italy, people are poor, but they eat good food. Even a poor man can have truffle." In this vision, Scricco sees himself as a supplier. And, incidentally, a rich man.

     "See this jar here?" he said in his kitchen, holding up a small jar of sliced truffles sent him by and Italian cousin. "If I find truffle, this jar would cost me a dollar. By the time it gets to the supermarket, it would sell for $50-and that's black truffles. White is much more." Until this year, Scricco was pretty much convinced he could find truffles in the New Jersey woods. He had pored over books and consulted that the climate and geology were right. Now he's ready to admit New Jersey might not be the place. But there's a lot of country left to cover. "Maybe Virginia, South Carolina, North Carolina," he said thoughtfully. "I got to find it someplace. I believe in nature. We have so much land. There's got to be some. To do this work, you need a lot of patience." Last Wednesday, as a cold front moved into New Jersey and expelled winter's first frosty breaths, Scricco said goodbye to his family to resume the quest. He had saved enough money for at least a week's worth of motel's food and gas.

     He and Leo headed by car to South Carolina, which he considered a promising region. His plan was to scout forested public lands in a swath of exploration north to south, 30 to 60 miles in from the Atlantic shore. Scricco figured on making 10 stops if about 30 minutes' duration per day. How long would he stay? Scricco Laughed. "If I find something, I'm going to stay a few weeks. If I find something, only a few days. That's a gamble. If no good, I got to start again in the springtime."

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