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TRUFFLE HOUND by Rowan Jacobsen Kirkus Star


On the Trail of the World’s Most Seductive Scent, With Dreamers, Schemers, and Some Extraordinary Dogs

by Rowan Jacobsen

Pub Date: Oct. 5th, 2021
ISBN: 978-1-63557-519-4
Publisher: Bloomsbury

A Mark Kurlansky–esque romp through the science, history, and culture surrounding that most elusive of foodstuffs, the truffle.

“White truffles,” writes James Beard Award winner Jacobsen, “are the world’s most expensive food.” Around that rare commodity has arisen a sophisticated trade network that begins with discovering the chemically complex fungus in the depths of oak forests throughout Europe, mostly. That job was first undertaken by pigs, which “are natural and enthusiastic consumers of truffles,” meaning that a truffle hunter needed to be sure that his porcine associates didn’t eat up the proceeds; most modern hunters have switched over to dogs, which are less interested in the truffles. (Besides, writes Jacobsen, if a rival hunter sees you loading your car with pigs, he knows what you’re up to and can follow you.) The author depicts a culture of truffle finding, trading, and eating that is as complex as the aromatic stew of ingredients that goes into one, and he commits to paper lovely images that combine both intrigue and a certain level of surrealism: “If Wes Anderson shot a John le Carré novel, he might well choose the Hotel Savona [Alba, Italy] for his set.” The money behind the story is huge, and truffles are often traded as if they contained pharmaceutical-grade heroin, in back alleys and parking garages—no surprise, since they are both scarce and heavily regulated. Naturally, Jacobsen writes, factory-food types are trying to grow them in greenhouses, but the results are relatively flavorless so far, with the air of “more raw leek than golden-fried garlic.” Jacobsen closes with a set of recipes, some improbable (truffletini, anyone?) and some resoundingly simple: “Many of the best ways to use truffles don’t require a recipe at all. Just grate into X before serving and save a few wafers for show….Just don’t truffle everything; less is more.” It’s an altogether delightful narrative.

Fans of pungent flavors—and pungent prose—will enjoy this mouthwatering grand tour of a culinary treasure.