When I started working at K&L back in 2007, I had no idea that my eyes would be opened to as many new and exciting foods as they would bottles of wine. There's no separation between eating and drinking in a true wine culture, so as I began to learn more about Burgundy, Bordeaux, and Barolo, I also discovered the many cuisines with which they paired so well; one of the most famous being the truffle. They're a big topic of conversation in the foodie world—a true novelty—those coveted, flavorful fungi that grow so infrequently under the earth's temperate soil. Of course, living in the U.S. where truffles do not naturally grow (the most regarded come from the south of France and northern Italy) makes tasting the legendary "diamonds of the kitchen" quite a task. Hearing about them so often while in the store, however, I was almost desperate to know what they tasted like. Every now and again I would get an email from a Bay Area restaurant claiming to have received in a fresh shipment from Europe, inviting me to partake in a very special, one-night-only truffle dinner. Fascinated by the opportunity to actually try these elusive tubers, I partook in a few such evenings. I always seemed to pay big, however, while tasting very little ("if you look closely you can see the shavings under the flashlight" a waiter actually once said to me).
I get it. Truffles are expensive (often between $1000-$3000 a pound) and they're meant to be consumed as fresh as possible, so getting them across the Atlantic, and then across the continental U.S. in time to satiate an incredible demand is no easy task. But that's why some things are simply better enjoyed at the source. Having gorged on French truffles on multiple occasions at this point, I would advise anyone looking to scratch that itch of curiosity to simply bite the bullet and buy your ticket to Paris (or any other French culinary locale) because the difference is night and day. Not only are the truffles fresher and more plentiful, but the serving sizes are much more satisfying and the experiences that much more rewarding (at least based off my limited experiences in California). My wife and I went in search of truffles today for lunch and we were not disappointed by what we found (and finding them was not difficult). A tossed Caesar salad with fresh slices of summer truffle (generally harvested through August, so we were just a bit late) that pungently perfumed the lightly-dressed greens, and a steaming bowl of risotto topped with shavings of the famed tuber melanosporum. In Paris (if you can find a place that serves a la carte) you'll pay about the same price for a heaping pile of freshly-shaved truffles as you will in the states for a dish "infused" with truffles, often invisible to the naked eye.
I must say that I am definitely on board with the truffle lifestyle. I know there's a mindset out there that probably thinks their earthy flavors are overrated and overpriced, but that's what I thought too until I had the real deal encounter. Now all I can think about is when I'm going to score again. Spoken like a true junkie.