Last month we were lucky enough to meet the Balestra clan, an Italian family from Umbria that has been in the truffle exporting business — both white and black — for just about 100 years, starting with Sabatino Balestra, for whom the company, Sabatino Tartufi, is named.
Sabatino is now a multi-generational business of truffle buyers and sellers, with a few family members now running the American imports side of the business up in a warehouse in the Bronx — name a restaurant, they probably supply them — while the rest work in the lovely truffle-producing foothills north of Rome, managing their relationships with hunters and the like.
The season for collecting white truffles — heady and intensely aromatic, those are the ones people go ga-ga over, or at least, more ga-ga than with black truffles, which are nowhere near as deeply sensual but still pretty sweet — is just now in full swing. And white truffles, we probably don’t have to tell you, are pretty darned expensive, not for everymen and women and not for everyday. (And maybe not for those obsessively counting their carbon footprint, though these babies are shipped in bulk, and if you are really concerned, you can always buy offsets, which might be worth it, every once in while.) Currently, you can order just 1 ounce of fresh white truffle from Sabatino for $150. But like lobstermen and oysterwomen, the Balestras, of course, have natural access to a lot of what the rest of us see as a luxury product, and as a result know what to do with them: And that is very little.
If you follow the restaurant scene in this city you have likely had a bit of white truffle, perhaps even a Sabatino truffle — shaved over the top of your risotto, your mac and cheese, your gnocchi. But a dish the Balestros introduced us to an even simpler treat: A wisp or two over the top of an fried egg, preferably an incredibly fresh one from your favorite cluckers, cooked in good olive oil and sprinkled with some fresh thyme.
It’s often said that a white truffle shaved over scrambled eggs is transporting, but the fried egg, we are now convinced, is far better thanks to the power of that runny yolk, which becomes one with truffle in a way even the softest scramble can’t. You want to make it even fancier? Go to Eataly and get yourself a transparent, featherweight slice or two of lardo (aka cured fat, kind of like proscuitto without any of that lean meat) and dress it over the top of that egg just before you slip it out of your skillet.
And, if you split this meal with with just five friends — $150 truffle + $3 for fresh thyme + $4.50 for a dozen eggs + $13 for a pound of lardo divided by 6 diners — that’s only $30 per person, plus bread, cheese and wine, of course. (Our suggestion: Antinori Cervaro della Sala 2008, made in the same soil your truffle was.) And even less if you grew that thyme yourself or happen to have chickens, or, like the Balestras, happen to be from Umbria, where if you have the right puppydog (no pigs for decades, as they eat your find) you can dig for your own truffle, too.
We can dream, but in the meantime, could you pass the eggs?