There was a time when diners desiring truffles would have to grab their specially trained pig or dog and hunt the ripe grounds of Italy or France. That, or fork over upwards of $2,200 a pound for white truffles.
Luckily for Denver foodies, the bosses at Barolo Grill, 3030 East Sixth Avenue, have done the legwork and are now serving special menus and dishes during their annual Truffle Festival, which has just been extended a week -- with more truffles arriving today, November 16.
Through Saturday, November 20, Barolo will feature a four-course tasting menu at $125 per person or $165 per person with wine pairings.
Executive chef Brian Laird is preparing a Parmigiano Reggiano soufflé with black and white truffles, housemade tajarin pasta with white truffles shaved tableside, roasted pork with fried golden beet gnocchi and truffles, and a chocolate cake with hazelnut gelato.
"This week, my goal is to put it [truffles] out there and educate people about what it is," said Laird. "A lot of people don't know, so they're like, 'Why would I pay $37 a portion when I don't even know what it is?'"
Like so many things, scarcity drives the price of truffles. Laird says white truffles, which are rarer than black, are more fragrant and expensive, and are only available from November through January. This year was especially good for white truffles, thanks to a rainy summer in Piemonte -- the only region in the world to grow the white variety.
The black truffles Barolo uses come from Burgundy and have a more subtle and earthy smell and flavor. White truffles hit the nose and palate like garlic on steroids, but better.
This is the twelfth year Barolo has held the Truffle Festival, which started with an eight-course dinner on Monday, November 8, featuring dishes such as a truffle egg custard served in the egg shell and a whole roasted pig with vegetables and black truffles.
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Guests can also order a la carte from the tasting menu or add truffles to dishes from the dinner menu as long as the restaurant has them, which Laird hopes will be into December.
Enjoying truffles is like belonging to an exclusive club. It shows an appreciation of the bold and, frankly, the ugly.
"It's one of those ingredients that you're either going to love or you're going to hate," said Laird. "People ask, 'What do they taste like?' It's indescribable, because there is nothing to compare it to. The people who do get it really get it, and they wait for it because it's such a special thing."