Saturday, September 6, 2008

Little Black Diamonds

I think it was at Bin 36, a restaurant across the street from my hotel on a business trip to Chicago, that I first tasted truffles. I should mention that Bin 36 is of a new breed of restaurants. They don't serve actual entrees. They serve tapas with six carefully selected wines to match. You order six appetizers and get six "flights" of wine to place against them. It's okay, I reasoned. I'm within legal stumbling distance of my bed. While highly civilized, it's pure hedonism.

The truffles were shaved over a cheese I selected. I like cheese. No, I love cheese. It's the fudge of the dairy world. I love mild, milky mozzarella with fresh basil and tomato slices as much as I love the feared Gorgonzola which smells like sweat socks. But the truffles ... while I enjoyed them, I felt a certain reserve. Musky, earthy, pungent – it was almost as if it was inappropriate to eat them in public. There's something utterly debauched about the taste of truffles, which explains their history.

Until recently, a truffle farmer would take his pig out to an oak grove to locate a truffle buried underground. The pig would prance along at a normal pace until he caught a whiff of something and was suddenly filled with this inexplicable urge to locate the exact origin. It smelled like a sow in heat, or, to his nose, his true love. Once he homed in on the origin of this heavenly scent, he would start digging furiously to get to her, never questioning why his true love was buried at the foot of an oak tree.

I'm not sure how this tradition changed. Perhaps the farmer felt guilty for misleading the pig into such disappointment and had to deal with the subsequent depression. Perhaps the pig dug so furiously that he destroyed the truffle itself. Now truffle farmers use dogs to locate truffles, and apparently truffles don't smell like bitches in heat. It seems that the dogs are equally voracious in locating truffles, not for any romantic attachment, but because they taste good. In fact, farmers need to carry treats to replace it so the dog doesn't devour the truffle.
I'm due for another business trip to Chicago soon and plan on staying in the same hotel, and even visiting Bin 36. But perhaps this time I'll order my meal to go and enjoy it while reflecting upon the relationship between the canine and human palette. And I'll remain mildy disturbed at the relationship of the pig's palette to both.

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