DOGS, of course…we don’t use pigs!” Fiorenzo Dogliani was emphatic in saying that pigs are passé when it comes to truffle-hunting. It was the lull before dinner time and over flutes of the bracing Prosecco Superiore Conegliano Valdobbiadene Sette Cascine, he was in his element, discussing the merits of both the wine and Tuber magnatum, Alba’s famous white truffle. He was back in Manila to reprise the dinner he had orchestrated three years ago with his friend Werner Berger, bon vivant and CEO of Werdenberg Corp., the company that distributes his wines. Wine is Dogliani’s calling, but come truffle time, the call of the tartufi bianchi is even stronger.
The Dogliani family has been in the winemaking business for three generations. In 1978 the family purchased a historic 1950s winery in La Morra, one of the towns at the core of the legendary Barolo zone. With the addition of this major cellar to their property, the entire estate now covers over 100 hectares of vineyards, expanded by the Dogliani brothers to nine farms from the original seven beni (farmhouses with vineyards), making it one of the largest, privately owned wineries in the Langhe region of Piemonte. Nebbiolo, the grape of Barolo wines, is planted in 60 hectares but the winery also produces the other great red and white wines of Piemonte: Barbera, Barbaresco, Dolcetto, Gavi di Gavi, Moscato d‘Asti and Roero Arneis.
Beni di Batasiolo makes Barolo from the fruit of four vineyards—Boscareto, Bofani, Cerequio and La Corda della Briccolina—all located on the famed hillsides of La Morra, Monforte and Serralunga d’Alba. Two Barolos, the Boscareto 2004 and the Briccolina 2007, both from Serralunga d’Alba made it to this year’s one-night-only, sold-out (again) White Truffle Dinner at Berger’s I’m Angus Steakhouse. Chef Othmar Frei (also Werdenberg’s COO) and I’m Angus’s Chef Leo Marquez again collaborated on the menu that featured classic Piemontese dishes. And just like it was three years ago, the white Alba truffle was greeted with much enthusiasm (and photo-taking) when Dogliani and Berger finally emerged from the kitchen bearing the tray loaded with a precious one kilo of the delicacy.
At prices now starting upward from €3,000 per kilo, truffles have sometimes been called “millionaires’ mushrooms.” Granted only those with fat wallets can afford them, the truth is that truffles are a type of fungi Ascomycetes that grow underground on the roots of certain trees—oak, poplar, hazel and linden trees are the most likely hosts of truffle spores. Growing sporadically, rather than being cultivated (although there are now attempts to cultivate them), the truffle is as much prized for its rarity as its unique aroma. (So powerful is this scent, it penetrates through a four- to 16-inch layer of soil.) Of the known types that exist, the most highly regarded are Tuber melanosporum, the black Perigord truffle; and Tuber magnatum, the white truffle of Piemonte. It is all about the perfume, explained Dogliani. The aroma of the French black truffle develops fully when cooked; the white Italian truffle is best fresh, when its aromatic intensity is at its height.
Which is why at dinner time, Berger and Dogliani worked the room, each one armed with a tagliatartufo, the mandolin-like utensil used expressly for slicing truffle. A shaving of paper-thin truffle went over each guest’s serving of tartare of beef with extra virgin olive oil, organic egg poached in cream and parmiggiano reggiano, traditional hand-made ravioli from Piemonte and veal steak in Barolo sauce. Just one or two delicate wafers of white truffle transformed what was already delicious to the absolutely sublime.
If the Alba truffle is central to the glory of Piemontese cuisine, the wines are the crowning glory of the region’s gastronomic reputation. For this year’s dinner, Dogliani made sure that examples of Piemonte’s famous wines were present. Gavi di Gavi, Piemonte’s purest expression of Cortese, the town of Gavi’s signature white grape, was represented by the Batasiolo Granee 2012. The Batasiolo Morino Langhe Chardonnay 2012, from the Morino vineyard in the village of La Morra partnered with the egg poached in cream and parmiggiano reggiano, the dish that elicited the most excitement. (Egg-and-truffle is a marriage made in heaven.) With the hand-made ravioli came the Batasiolo Barbera d’Alba Sovrana 2012—barrique-aged, gamey and well-structured, with lush, ripe tannins. Batasiolo’s example of Brachetto d’Acqui Spumante, the region’s delicately perfumed, sweet, sparkling red wine, was paired with the chocolate dessert. The flagship wines of Batasiolo are its single vineyard Barolos. Both the Boscareto 2004 and La Corda della Briccolina 2007, from vineyards of the same names, are deeply concentrated and beautifully scented—I picked up notes of black tea, roses, leather, espresso and earth (and truffle?).
Barolos are known for their longevity and intensity. According to esteemed wine writer Hugh Johnson’s Pocket Wine Book 2014, the 1996 and 1999 (two of the great Barolo vintages of the 1990s) are still vintages to keep. In contrast, the truffle’s lifespan is short. The white Alba truffle retains its freshness and singular aroma for just 10 days. And in Piemonte’s Langhe region where the Tuber magnatum fluorishes, truffle season ends by December 31. The Alba truffle, you must eat fresh, whispered Dogliani, as he rained a second helping of truffle (Berger already did the first pass) on my plate of beef tartare.
Truly, what is fleeting is best enjoyed in the moment.