As Fancy as a Finger Lime

There’s a reason they’re called the caviar of the fruit world.

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Finger limes aren’t like any citrus fruit you’ve seen in the United States. While their name gives some indication as to what they’re about (shape like fingers, taste like lime), the Australian born Citrus australisica has small, globular vesicles that differ greatly from its conventional cousin. The round structures hold their juice surprisingly well, and won’t burst until chewed.

The trick to keeping the vesicles intact is to carefully cut the finger lime in half at the middle. With a very sharp knife, make a tiny incision just skin deep all the way around the circumference then gently pull apart. To extract the caviar, squeeze at the ends to push them out. You could make the incision length wise, but I found that process to be a little more painstaking.

It’s best to consume finger limes raw, most commonly as a garnish (they get pricey!). If they’re cooked, they’re more likely to dissolve, losing their aesthetic appeal. Incorporate finger limes once you’ve removed your dish from the heat. In restaurants, you’re likely to encounter finger limes on maki, seared scallops, fish, or a small dessert.

How do you enjoy finger limes?

Modern Threats to the Truffle Industry

Truffles are the black diamond of cooking: everyone wants one, few can have them. They have been served to kings, emperors, and wealthy socialites. There are two basic types of truffles that Americans are familiar with and they are both from Europe. The white truffle, Tuber magnatum, is associated with Italy’s northern regions. Black truffles, most popular in France, are similar to the white truffle in both flavor and aroma, but are also found in Italy. The majority of truffles are harvested within small communities, where their trade is an important part to the local economy. It is a tradition sustained within families by passing the skills down through the generations. These communities use local organizations and clubs to set their own rules and regulations to ensure the quality of each year’s harvest. However, there are several new threats to the truffle industry that will make you think twice about whom you purchase them from.

            The three largest producers of European truffles, France, Italy, and Spain, are known to trade amongst themselves in an effort to manipulate the market. A lack of international regulatory body makes it legal for labeling truffles any way they want, claiming any origins that they want. France imports nearly thirty to forty tons of truffles annually from Spain, and can resell them labeled as “French” truffles. This unregulated trade between larger companies affects smaller growers, importers and exporters. Truffle crime is not uncommon, especially within the small truffle communities. A Google search turns up countless examples of armed robbery of foragers in their homes, cars, or still in the forest. Interpol and Europol have their hands full with illegal smuggling. It is estimated between ten and fifteen tons of truffles are confiscated annually from airports and security checkpoints and then destroyed.

            The second threat to truffle hunting is the production of Chinese truffles. Within the past twenty years, China has secretly developed a way to harvest or “cultivate” the truffle, which, after many attempts by the Americans and Europeans in the twentieth century, was considered impossible. The variety of truffle grown is considered to be extremely low quality, without the same intensity in flavor, aroma, or texture. Little is known about their production, but the process allows China to sell them at an unbelievably low cost. Since 2008, it is estimated that between one hundred and two hundred tons of truffles are exported to France annually, and are then resold under French labels. In order tor these subpar truffles to blend in with their European cousins, the Chinese truffles are mixed with their superiors in order for them to absorb some of the European truffle’s aromas. They are also mixed within the same packaging, and are nearly indistinguishable from each other. Unfortunately, you might have encountered a Chinese truffle in your dining and shopping experiences.

            The final threat to truffle hunting is truffle oil. For many, this is the cheaper alternative to buying the tubers whole (in Boston, they can range from $50-100 an ounce), which can be very convenient for the home cook. The average cost of a ten-ounce bottle in Boston’s North End is between fifteen and twenty dollars. It’s strange to learn that unlike the prices of the whole tuber, truffle oil prices rarely, if ever, fluctuate. Upon closer inspection of the labels, however, the reason becomes obvious. In my search for truffle oil, I did not find one bottle that wasn’t labeled truffle “flavor” or “aroma.” The oil is rarely made with real truffles. Instead, the flavor is derived from chemical agents that simulate the truffles natural flavor. The most common chemical is 2,4-dithapentane. The lack of an international truffle regulatory body means that companies can label and market their oils any way they choose, making claims that they do not have to prove, such as calling their oils “superior quality,” “pure,” or “all natural.” There is no way to prove the validity of these claims, and companies do not have to list the chemical ingredients.

            This blatant disregard for the local, traditional practices of truffle hunting undermines the truffle’s perceived value and rarity. The artificial manipulation of the truffle market shortchanges the actual truffle hunters, who operate on smaller scales within their own communities. International trade and Chinese truffles lower the value of their work, causing confusion amongst consumers. It’s not just home cooks who can be hoodwinked. Chefs are also scammed by the relabeling of inferior truffles, or are not familiar in what a real truffle tastes and smells like. All the confusion and lies surrounding truffles will eventually lead to what I believe to be one of two scenarios: a collapse in the market or the organization of an international governing body. Very soon truffles might be labeled certified, fair trade, or listed with the region they are harvested from and a local purveyors mark. In the mean time, I, and hopefully you all, will be more conscious of anything labeled “truffle” that comes our way.
 

 

References

Hopson, Janet L. “Truffles.” Science News 108.16 (1975): 250-251. JSTOR. Web. 9 June 2015.

Lloyd, C.G. “The Truffle Industry of Italy.” Mycologia 15.5 (1923): 236-238. JSTOR. Web. 8 June 2015.

Renowden, Gareth. “Truffle Wars.” Gastronomica 8.4 (2008): 46-50. JSTOR. Web.

“The Thing About Truffles.” Choice Cuts: A Savory Selection of Food Writing from Around the World and Throughout History. Ed. Mark Kurlansky. New York: Ballantine Books, 2002. 283-302. Print.

Toussaint-Samat, Maguelonne. “The History of Truffles.” A History of Food. Trans. Anthea Bell. Cambridge: Wiley-Blackwell, 1992. 434-441. Print.

Centerba: A Sip of Spirit and Tradition

centerba-toro-forte_1Ask any Italian about their favorite amaro liquor, and their answer will be filled with local legend, questionable scientific evidence, and regional pride. Such is the case for centerba, a spicy green elixir that is believed to have improved the lives of rural Italians for centuries. Centerba derives from the Latin “centum herbora” and translates to “one hundred herbs.” It is digestive liquor hailing from the Adriatic region of Abruzzo, Italy. Historical evidence traces the distillation of wild mountain herbs to the Middle Ages, where they were expected to cure ailments and temper harsh weather. Bitter and piney, Centerba embodies Abruzzo’s foraging culture, history, and the independent, self-sufficient spirit of the locals.

The largest and most popular brand, Centerba Toro, was first produced in the nineteenth century. Beniamino Toro, a chemist, bottled the first branded distillate in 1817 in the town of Tocco da Casauria, the location of which is now known as Casauria Distillery. He served it at his apothecary shop as a digestive aid and to cure various ailments, such as the common cold, ulcers, and gout. Bright forest green and 140 proof (70%abv), the modern day liquor is often compared to a fiery chili pepper that sends shivers down the spine, with hints of peppermint and pine to keep the nostrils flaring. The liquor is an amaro, that Italian word for “bitter,” and is produced by macerating an undisclosed mix of herbs in a neutral spirit. It is then allowed to mature in a secret process without the addition of sweeteners. However, it is not uncommon to find many locals still mixing their own distillate using high-grade ethanol and foraged treasures. A homemade recipe may contain any number of wild mountain herbs, including orange leaves, chamomile, rosemary, sage, juniper, mint, saffron, lemon leaves, thyme, and marjoram.

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