I was alone. Some people hate eating alone. Some even finally realize, at a table for one outdoors, having the best lunch in all of France, with the best possible view, in the nicest possible weather, with the finest glass of wine you ever tasted, that nothing will ever be enjoyable enough to offset the weight of the ceaseless despair they’ve carried since adolescence, and, after a perfect dessert, head straight for the front of the nearest speeding truck.
I am not like that. Not at all. I like dining alone cause I like having free range, controlling the space, getting it right, but mostly cause I hate sharing. Especially this stuff.
I had managed to procure red crystalline truffles. Don’t worry if you haven’t heard of them. Few have. They’re sensitive things, and preposterously rare, growing only in a single fragmented patch of woodland in Latvia, and only under perfect conditions. Thing is, that only happens every few years (maybe more, but since they stick around for two weeks max, they’re likely to come and go unnoticed). They have no season, so their arrival is anticipated by a small, dedicated group of truffle diviners, or mud ticklers, as they’re known in local dialect.
Nowadays they use algorithms plotting humidity, temperature, air pressure and clay density to time the hunt, but still end with rough estimates at best. Red ghosts flourish at the onset of unusually wet periods, after particular combinations of (amongst other variables): evening heat, morning chill, wind direction volatility, and fluctuations in slender mayfly populations (no one knows why), which means they must usually be harvested in torrential rains. To complicate things further, only a solitary species of half-blind endemic ferret has the nose to find and root them out. The ferrets, which are also unfortunately a dying breed, often strike out even when the truffles are surely there; so you can see, we are operating at miniscule odds.
Regardless, I had procured two beautiful specimens, whole and unblemished. It had taken a great deal of time, money, planning and sneakiness. I’d cashed in a few ancient favors and built a few new strategic alliances (I now owe an unclear debt to a Latvian gangster called Rudi Pipholš), but I felt it was well worth it.
Now, I know you’ve heard of black and white truffles, which fetch a price, and deserve to for their earthy funk, but these suckers put them to shame. Make them seem like McNuggets.
They rested in a folded cloth on the counter. I opened it up to have another look. Each was the size and shape of a roasted peanut shell, three nuts deep, still intact. They were a translucent terra cotta red, with silver veins streaking across the surface. They resembled odd precious stones, but were in fact more precious than that. I took another sniff, padding the fetish of anticipation. Rain soaked earth and river moss filled the nose, with an afterthought of nutmeg and cocoa. Then came subtler elements of laurel, malt, and perfumed spruce – and a cheeky whiff of fig! But the full scent would only bloom when cut.
I tucked them back in, put them aside, and started cooking. The simpler the better for this rare treat. I boiled potatoes and made gnocchi from scratch, then a simple sauce of butter, chestnut and sherry.
I already had the parmigiano, flown in directly from Italy with Donato on Tuesday (his check in luggage still stinks of it), and a special bottle of Sardinian red from ’04: L’assassino. It was one of a very limited stock from a vineyard with only eight producing vines, and ’04 was the last vintage – many say the best. Vintner’s dead, farm sold. This may well have been the last bottle left on earth. I’d waited on it for seven years, and I’d drink it now, alone.
This wine had been cultivated precisely to pair with truffle, and I’d found its soul mate. I opened the bottle and set it off to the side to breathe it all in. I believe a wine deserves a view on what it will pair with. Some time to adapt, to get into character.
I finished the pasta in the saucepan. I’d made enough for two but poured it all in one large bowl, my bowl. I sprinkled it generously with cheese, then shaved both red truffles on top, all at once, just like that. I did it quickly and carefully – sensitive as they are, the slivers ruin easily if they soak up too much moisture, or are exposed to too much air.
They were even prettier inside, denser, but shinier, with the silver streaks running all the way through them like lightening bolts. The smell coming off them was heady and complex, eliciting memories forgotten and comforts lost to growing up.
This was it. I’d gone all in. Salivating, I carried the plate deliberately to the table, which I’d set elegantly for one. I absorbed the last lush aches of anticipation, feeling a deep joy new to me: one true lovers must feel before first making love. It was time, at last, to eat.
I fetched the assassin, and brought her to the table. I sat down and poured a thin-stemmed glass.
Something fell loudly in another room and I dropped the bottle. Reflexively reaching for it, the tablecloth caught on my knee.
Down went the bowl, the bottle, and the glass, shattering onto the floor to paint a purple mess. The gnocchi, drowned in the wine, impaled by shrapnel shards of glass, were spread gruesomely about the scene.
I tried to pick up but the battle was lost. The truffles had turned, the moment had passed. And that’s the sad story of the red crystalline truffles. I should have warned you before, it had no happy ending. Maybe you guessed so already.
By EM Vireo