By Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer Published Nov 20, 2006 at 2:32 PM
Supply and demand. That's what explains the price of truffles, especially northwest Italy's prized white truffles, which are native to the Monferrato and Langhe areas, where they grow under the ground and are hunted in the early morning fog by trifolau (truffle in Piemonteis is trifola; tartufo in Italian) and their dogs (the pig thing is French and, who knows, maybe they use them in Tuscany and Umbria, too).

Even in the markets at Asti, Alba, Moncalvo and Murisengo, truffles aren't cheap. Depending on the quality and size of the truffles found, prices in early November were running from 230 to 330 Euro per hectogram (100 grams or a little less than 4 oz.) for consumers. In cities like Alba, there are even "illicit" truffle markets where those in the know can get a good price and everyone can avoid a visit from the tax man.

However, at the markets and at the many truffle fairs in the area, one can always afford to pick up a small truffle, which is all that's needed to turn a hearty dinner of polenta or risotto or pasta or veal carpaccio into a magical experience, thanks to the fungus' musty, earthy scent. Therefore, it's not uncommon to see Italians making haste to the kitchen from the market clutching small packets.

If you're lucky, like I was last December, your friend's grandfather is a trifolau and he will go out in the morning of the day you've been invited over for lunch and you'll shave curls of white heaven on to your lunch while your friend's dad uncorks a label-less bottle of wine he made himself.

Or your cousins live in a village that has a great truffle fair and you'll sit gathered around a pot of polenta and take turns passing the truffle and shaver. Afterward, you'll eat some of the nearly extinct rare apples from the previous week's festa.

In Milwaukee, your options are considerably more limited for truffles; don't even waste your time looking for the rattly ciucarin-a apples! Truffle prices skyrocket, presumably due to shipping the fragile items (which can lose their scent very quickly) and most places don't sell or cook with white truffles.

Don't fall for the truffle scented oils and the like which as often as not contain nothing at all from a real truffle but instead a chemical that duplicates the scent.

Since you're unlikely to know the pleasure of sitting at table with Federico, Giulia, Silvio and Mirella in Cerrina Monferrato or with my awesome cousins nearby, your best bet is to spend the year saving up for Bacchus' "White Truffle Dinner," with Chef Paul Bartolotta (pictured above with the chefs of Bartolotta's restaurants), who runs the show at the Bartolotta Ristorante di Mare at the Wynn in Las Vegas.

For $350 per person (I told you to save!), you'll feast on a dinner focused on the Tuber Magnatum, and your wine, tax and tip are also included. The event is slated for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 12. Reservations are recommended, call (414) 765-1166.
Bobby Tanzilo Senior Editor/Writer

Born in Brooklyn, N.Y., where he lived until he was 17, Bobby received his BA-Mass Communications from UWM in 1989 and has lived in Walker's Point, Bay View, Enderis Park, South Milwaukee and on the East Side.

He has published three non-fiction books in Italy – including one about an event in Milwaukee history, which was published in the U.S. in autumn 2010. Four more books, all about Milwaukee, have been published by The History Press.

With his most recent band, The Yell Leaders, Bobby released four LPs and had a songs featured in episodes of TV's "Party of Five" and "Dawson's Creek," and films in Japan, South America and the U.S. The Yell Leaders were named the best unsigned band in their region by VH-1 as part of its Rock Across America 1998 Tour. Most recently, the band contributed tracks to a UK vinyl/CD tribute to the Redskins and collaborated on a track with Italian novelist Enrico Remmert.

He's produced three installments of the "OMCD" series of local music compilations for OnMilwaukee.com and in 2007 produced a CD of Italian music and poetry.

In 2005, he was awarded the City of Asti's (Italy) Journalism Prize for his work focusing on that area. He has also won awards from the Milwaukee Press Club.

He can be heard weekly on 88Nine Radio Milwaukee talking about his "Urban Spelunking" series of stories.