‘The Truffle Underground’ book review.
Our cousin Alberto had heard about the book and as it is not available in Italian, ordered it for me so that I could read it and translate the gist for him. He and some of the other truffle hunters were curious to know what the writer had found out as it is notoriously difficult to get specific details from people involved in the business.
Subtitled ‘A Tale of Mystery, Mayhem and Manipulation in the Shadowy Market of the World’s Most Expensive Fungus’, Jacobs’ book takes a pretty in depth look at the journey of the most valuable truffles, the winter white and the Perigord black, from the field to the plate. As the subtitle suggests the author focuses on the dark underside of the business, the secrecy, the subterfuge and the various crimes which are committed.
I really enjoyed the book, in fact I read it over two days, scarcely putting it down. Is it accurate though? Yes and no. Secrecy is certainly a huge part of truffling and no hunter wants to reveal their ‘territory’ or give too much knowledge away. For most trufflers, this is part of the game and one of the aspects that makes their hobby or job exciting. Good hunters are often obsessive and this can lead to unfriendly competitiveness in some extreme cases. We have heard stories over the years of truffle dogs being poisoned and car tyres being slashed but this is by no means typical of the truffling community.
In chapter 7, Middlemen, Jacobs describes the journey of the truffle through the various middlemen, the collectors, the regional dealers and the larger companies. At times he seems astounded by the lack of respect shown by dealers towards the two professions they purport to connect, the truffle hunter and the chef and ultimately the lack of respect for the actual truffle. Accurate? Very.
Should you read the book? Definitely! If you love white truffles and want to spend your hard-earned cash treating youself to this divine fungus, you need to be aware that the market can be unscrupulous. For me, it makes sense then to arm yourself with as much information as you can find and this book will take your truffle knowledge and your truffle experience to a new level.