The Queen of Truffles: Meera Cortese
Your journey into the world of truffles is fascinating from what I know! Please can you tell us a little bit about it?
Well, I worked my way up the ladder in private banking for a number of years, but when I had children I realised that I had to find something that I could fit around them a bit more.
Having married into an Italian family, I became intrigued with the incredible truffles my father-in-law would source and gradually I persuaded him to teach me all he knew. His suppliers became my suppliers and in around 2005 I began reaching out to some of the chefs and restaurants who I knew would appreciate the quality of the truffles I’d sourced. The rest, as they say, is history!
What can you tell us about the 2021 season for white truffles? How are they looking?
It’s been a super challenging year. Really good white truffles have been very scarce due to quite unusual weather conditions. This means that prices have rocketed. In my 16 years of dealing I’ve never known prices to soar this much.
I’m managing to find great truffles through my amazing hunters in Umbria, but they come at a price.
Without giving away all of your trade secrets, are there any tell-tale signs for how to pick a great truffle?
There isn’t really a trade secret. It’s about instinct… the smell needs to be earthy and rich but not too unbearably pungent that it’s off-putting. The touch should be firm but not too hard. And I’d say that a truffle that ‘looks’ good isn’t always the best. Don’t dismiss the ugly ones.
If someone is buying a truffle from you for the first time, how would you suggest they serve it?
For me, a simple and absolutely delicious way to serve white truffle is thinly shaved over scrambled eggs. But my absolute favourite would have to be with a well made champagne risotto. A black truffle is divine grated into the filling of a cheese toastie.
The list of top restaurants you supply in London is incredible. Are you also supplying private individuals in London?
Yes, increasingly. It’s mainly due to word of mouth. Friends and clients like Ruth Rogers [of the River Café], and others, are kind enough to recommend me to their friends so it’s been a bit like Chinese whispers.
What’s your view on pairing truffle with olive oil in place of butter?
For black truffle I think that olive oil can work beautifully. For white truffle I’d say butter is best.
What are your observations about how truffles are adapting to climate change?
I’d say it’s clearly having an effect, as this challenging season has proved. It hasn’t rained enough, and I can only put that down to climate change. Also, when it’s too warm the truffles dry out. Neither situation is good. But where there’s a will, to find the best truffles, there’s a way!
Meera can be contacted via Instagram @meeracortesi