The Truffle Don
by Pim under Uncategorized with 21 Comments
Sunday, November 6, 2005
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
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
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
"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
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