The Truffle Don

Whitetruffle

The scene was a dark parking lot, somewhere in Monte Carlo, in the Principality of Monaco. We had been waiting impatiently for the arrival of a mysterious figure, known only as the Truffle Don.

The Truffle Don is something of a legend amongst those in the know up and down the Riviera. Many have heard of him. Yet only the lucky few could truly vouch for his existence. He always travels with a driver, who looks to me more like a bodyguard. I suspect he serves both purposes.

He sells the best truffles. Only white. And only from Alba. Nothing and nowhere else. The problem is you’d have to find him first. And, between you and me, that’s not an easy thing to do. Of course it is not a simple matter of money. This is the Côte d’Azur we are speaking of. Everyone here has money, and probably more than you or I have.

It is only by proper introduction would the Truffle Don agree to meet
you. Our references were required, and evidently thoroughly checked,
before he would agree on a time and place to meet. And even after all
that he changed his mind at least twice before the final rendezvous
with us.

Earlier in the evening our dear friend Mikael collected us from
the airport in Nice. We had just arrived on the 6pm Fly Baboo flight from
Geneva. At 6.15, precisely, Mikael’s mobile rang. The Don himself was on the
phone. We received the instruction to meet him at a certain parking
lot under the shadow of a busy street in Monte Carlo. And to bring
cash, lots of it. We raced back to Monaco to make it in time to
meet him.

That was how we found ourselves pacing up and down the small, dark
lot, waiting with impatience for the arrival of the Truffle Don.
Finally, a brand-new, jet-black Mercedes pulled up. The windows were
tinted, although in that light we couldn’t have seen anything anyway.

The car came to a stop by us. The window on the driver side rolled down.
A voice emanated from the dark interior, speaking in heavily italianated French.

"Bonne sware….vous êtes Mikael?"

"Oui", Mikael quickly replied. "Vous êtes.." …….then he
stalled….how was he supposed to know how to address the Truffle Don in
person?

"Ah, bon", another voice came from the back of the car, saving our Mikael
from a certain embarrassment and who knew what more. A pot-bellied, balding, and
outrageously Italian man stepped out, as if straight from a Martin Scorsese set.
He was very well dressed, wearing a pair of expensive shoes so highly polished they shimmered in the dark. The driver came out right behind, without bothering to
stop the engine or move the car from the middle of the driveway. The
Don himself opened the trunk, inside of which were a few portable
coolers. The pungent scent of white truffles hit our noses almost
before he unlocked the trunk. He opened one of the coolers, showing us layers of neatly
stacked packages, each loosely wrapped in a kitchen towel. He
removed the first two layers before unwrapping the third one.

This time, the heady scent washed over us like a wave. Inside the
package were what looked to me like a few pebbles covered in dust, but
that unmistakable stink betrayed the real identity. (No, they were not old socks.) We sniffed,
squeezed, and passed a few around until we found the two we liked most,
all the while being watched ever so carefully by the driver. Out came
a precise digital scale and on went the truffles. The two we wanted
weighed in at about 100 grams, and at just about two hundred euros.
That was certainly at wholesale price. Our connection was better than
even we had realized.

We paid him in cash. There was of course no receipt. Another friend
who’d had a previous transaction with him via post received his
overnight package in a box with no return address. When he requested a
receipt, an envelope arrived the following day, with a small white
sheet of paper, on which was written, with a pencil, the amount he paid
the previous day. That was the Truffle Don’s idea of a transaction
record.

Walking away, the Don turned around and spoke to us. "Now that you know my number, you could always buy directly from me, no need to bother with
that fancy place" he said, pointing to the other side of the parking
lot, directly at the most expensive gourmet food shop in town. He was
right, just a few feet over that way, the price would have been twice
what we paid him just now. Funny thing is, our friend Mikael the
Monagasque was pretty sure the Don supplied that place too. When it
comes to the economics of the truffle world, what makes what or whom
ticks I shall never understand. All I know is, next time I want white
truffles I know where to go. I will ask for another audience with the
Don.

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  • Ben

    Pim, Your posting above is worthy of a film-noir all of its own! Question – do you prefer the Albanese white over the Perigord black?
    Ben

  • dju

    hello ! :-)
    i just went here (your gourmet blog) with a link about your funny story about french policemen which let you go to your rendezvous in a restaurant ;-) (about ~november 29th 2004)
    I’m living near Monaco, and i can advise you to try “Le Provençal” restaurant in Villefranche sur Mer (near Nice), i went in once, and it was a very fine restaurant with all that suits…
    you should love it if you are are an amateur (or not) !
    Bon Appetit ! :-)
    Julien

  • http://www.soundandfury.info/index.php/2005/11/07/chez_pim_the_truffle_don Sound and Fury

    chez pim: The Truffle Don

    What’s white, smelly, costs 2 per gram, and is sold out of the trunk of a shiny black Mercedes by a suspicious Italian man?
    Pim weaves a short but atmospheric tale of illicit transactions on the French Riviera.

  • http://futureblog.typepad.com/futureblog/2005/11/chez_pim.html futureblog

    chez pim

    Link: chez pim. It seems you are having quite the adventures in europe.. are u planning on moving here?

  • Jean-Louis

    I was in Alba ten days ago. The price on the main street runs about 200 to 220 euros per 100 grams. The one star Michelin place I went to for a complete truffle dinner paid 170 euros wholesale. A full four courses (all with a VERY generous helping of truffles )dinner ran 135 euros, not including wine. Add a young Barbera d’Alba bottle per person and you can get the whole deal for about the wholesale cost. A good tradeoff.

  • jerry

    So what’s his number, how do we in the blogosphere contact the Don? What fun intrigue.

  • http://elipe.blogspot.com emi

    Ben is quite right. It so does sound like a film-noir. How wonderful to have had to have the opportunity.

  • http://www.vinography.com Alder

    Excellent, my dear. A fine piece. Now WHAT DID YOU DO WITH THEM !?!? :-)

  • http://andreayaya.typepad.com/rookie_cookery/ Andrea

    I’ve got to know…..Are truffles *really* all that spectacular? How does it compare to, say, a wonderful glass of wine in contrast to a mediocre one?
    This is agreat story Pim, and oh how I wish i could have been there with you! Thanks for my vicarious experience through you!
    Andrea

  • http://gastronomydomine.blogspot.com/ Squeezeweasel

    Oh, Pim! I once had the opportunity to hold and smell a white truffle in an expensive delicatessen in London (sadly not the opportunity to buy it; this was years ago when I’d just left university and didn’t have a full-time job). I still occasionally fall into a daydream on quiet afternoons about exactly what I would have done with it if I’d been able to buy it.
    Have you come across a restaurant called Le Truffiere in Paris, just off the Rue Mouffetard? They do a whole black Perigord truffle en croute there, and I ate one of the best meals I had when living in Paris there. (It was also the most expensive, by quite a long way.)

  • http://babyhippobakes.blogspot.com/ Linda

    What a great read!!!

  • http://www.bigsaucer.com Nicki

    Excellent anecdote, but I’m going to stick my neck out here and say that when it comes to truffles, you can definitely have too much of a good thing. I recently did a three-day gourmet trip to the Perigord and by the end of it I just wanted to be able to breathe in without smelling bloody truffle. It didn’t help that when I got back to London the unmistakable earthy smell of truffled oil wafted around every restaurant I went to. It was just too much.
    Having said that, when truffle is applied sparingly and appropriately, it is a truly marvellous thing such as in the stunningly simple boiled egg I ate at the Vieux Logis in Tremolat (http://www.vieux-logis.com/fr/restaurant.htm), which was utter perfection and a great example of a steady hand.

  • http://chezpim.typepad.com Pim

    Thanks everybody for your comments. That was such an experience, surreal and fun, I thought you’d all enjoy it.
    Ben: I like both, but only when I have really good quality ones. Mediocre truffles, of any color, are pointless. Give me a perfect potato over a mediocre truffle any day.
    Julien: Thanks! I didn’t get to try Le Provencal this time, since we were cooking so much at home. Perhaps next time.
    Jean-Louis: ça va? Good to see you around these parts. How did you like the one star place? What was it anyhow? We drank a good Barbera with our truffles too. Un bon marriage, indeed.
    Jerry: Sorry, I don’t have it!
    Emi: Thanks. It was noir alright, since the parking lot was so dark.
    Alder: well, well, well, can’t wait for anything now can we?
    Andrea: Great truffles are certainly spectacular. Once you tried them, you’d be hard pressed to go for that icky stuff lots of gourmet stores are passing off as “truffle” oil.
    Squeezeweasel: I’ve seen that place, but never tried it. The best place that does a preparation with whole truffles is L’Ambroisie. Hands down. Unfortunately this is not quite the season for black truffles yet. I’d be patient and wait a little longer until they are really really good.
    Linda: Thanks.
    Nicki: I agree with you, and I couldn’t stand truffle oil anyway. These white truffles we got were so good I could have had two more though. Seriously.
    cheers,
    Pim

  • http://www.saltshaker.net saltshaker

    The other thing Ben, is that black truffles can be cooked (and therefore made into things like Sauce Perigord…), white truffles never should be – just warmed by slicing thinly onto hot food. They’re very definitely different flavors as well.

  • http://eatdrinknbmerry.blogspot.com Dylan

    how much is that truffle worth? in US dollars. i can’t wait for the day when i actually try it. mmmm.

  • ettore

    ciao

  • http://hungryinhogtown.typepad.com/hungry_in_hogtown/2005/12/truffles_betcha.html Hungry In Hogtown

    Truffles. Betcha can’t eat just one.

    Little did I understand the dangerous path I’d set for myself last Tuesday when I decided to make one brief phone call. The call was to Cheese Boutique, in my opinion the best food store in Toronto. Sure, it’s

  • http://www.kitchenmusings.typepad.com/ Veronica

    Very interesting story. Sounds like a truffle underworld… he..he .

  • simon

    your photos and stories are quite amazing and i take my chefs hat off to you and bow.
    you are a true and passionate foodie…..you include excellent comments with extroadinary photos
    hurry up and come down under!!
    http://www.tuttobene.com.au
    cheers simon

  • http://www.winesos.com jackee

    nice recipe and article i make this yestarday its nice i try this with my favorite white wine.

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