Finding a welcome gift for a bona fide chow freak can be a little frustrating if theyre actively pursuing their mania. Here are some dead-bang ideas, every one of them as Grandpa used to say a dandy:
A fungus rarely among us Theres only one thing bad about the truffle not the often over-rich confection that leaves unsweetened cocoa powder on chins, dress fronts and furniture, but the aromatic, rare and highly prized fungus that grows underground, attached to hardwood tree roots:
It costs too damn much for most of us ever to have a chance to taste more than a sliver.
The truffle is downright ugly to behold bumpy, misshapen, ranging in color from black to off-white and looks like something youd see floating in a mason jar full of formaldehyde at a sideshow exhibit of anatomical curiosities. But the pungent smell and the taste are unlike anything else (otherwise Id try to give you a comparison).
Truffles always high prices can spike wildly, and recently reached as much as $4,200 a pound. But theres now an intriguing possibility not only of getting a good taste of truffles, but maybe as much as you can handle, and the added potential of selling what you cant use.
While commercial truffle-growing operations have been around Europe for a long time, a new outfit called Truffle Tree is trying something I havent found elsewhere. For an initial fee of $239, and $55 a year for care and maintenance, anyone can adopt a truffle oak in the south of France.
Dick Pyle, a former high-end restaurateur in London, has put science, agriculture and backbone to work establishing himself as a truffiere.
I cant vouch for his success or your potential for sharing it, but photos of the operation and information about taking part are at Pyles Web site, truffle-tree.co.uk. If your tree bears fungus, you can have the precious truffles shipped to you as theyre harvested (specially trained pigs and dogs sniff them out, and the truffle hunter tries to beat them to the booty, before they eat it); put them in a pool to be marketed, or do some of both.
Its certainly a risky investment, but I suppose no more so than more conventional trading in stocks. If youre interested, drop me a line. Truffle Tree has shown some interest in discounts for our readers.
How you slice it Why, given all the foregoing, would I recommend a kitchen gadget that is specifically designed to slice truffles? Simply because, with a little imagination, you can find all kinds of other uses for it in the kitchen.
Ive never once used mine to fine-slice a nice big fungus. But I have used the razor-edged thing to shave walnuts and pecans over cakes and tarts; to sliver hard cheese on pasta, pizza and bruschetta; to make paper-thin wafers of fresh garlic for those who like it raw in salsa or bread dips; and to cleanly sever transparently thin slices of my own fingertips and palm because I wasnt paying attention.
Those who believe high price equals high quality can find them online and at tony kitchenware shops for $30, $40 and more. Mine is just as sharp, just as sturdy as any of them. I picked it up for 10 bucks on Amazon.
Its not the meat, its the emotion Bill Nimans ranch in Bolinas, Calif., is now widely regarded as a model of sustainable farming. What began almost accidentally as a small family operation, meant to put food only on its own table, has become the darling of restaurateurs and soft-hearted meat lovers across the country for the care and humanity that Niman Ranch puts into bringing livestock to market. If youve tasted Niman meat in any of our better local eateries or bought some at such high-end markets as Papa Joes, the quality speaks for itself.
The full story has been collected, along with dozens of well-written recipes, in The Niman Ranch Cookbook (Ten Speed, $35), by Bill Niman and Janet Fletcher. If PETA is bumming you out, or vegetarians of your acquaintance have managed to plant some guilt in your carnivores soul, assuage it with this fine book.
King of the cloven hoof Speaking of Papa Joes, its been quietly peddling some primo pig for several months now, and a hunk of it would make a mighty nice gift for the pork-lover in your life.
I got hold of some chunks of Berkshire hog because it promised to be the best pigmeat Id had in a long life of enjoying the noble hog, both in temperament and taste, from my uncles backyard pigpens in Terre Haute, Ind., to curbside barbecue pits throughout Detroit to backwoods joints in the South; from snout to tail. But the Berkshire hog, prized for centuries in Europe, was nearly impossible to find in this country until fairly recently.
Berkshire pork is darker than the other white meat were used to, beautifully marbled, free of hormones and antibiotics, and comes from Iowa farmers who husband their animals with the same philosophy and care as Bill Niman.
And what I was promised is true: Its the most full-flavored, tender and juicy pig-eating experience Ive had.
Because it sells for about half-again as much as run-of-the-mill agribusiness pork, Time magazine called it the Ben & Jerrys of pig meat. And like that stuff, its worth the money, if only on special occasions.Ric Bohy is editor of Metro Times. Send comments to [email protected]