True gourmets are not snobs. They will taste and judge virtually any preparation, from the simplest to the most complex, with an open mind. They are attracted to and by the quality and they are not unduly impressed by the price. Cheap food that many might scorn as fit only for the “poor” may delight the true gourmet, whose sole criteria are flavor, aroma, texture, color, and other “objective” values. Fortunately, Italy has plenty to offer gourmets. Some are costly, and many others are incredibly reasonable.
The white truffles of Alba in Piedmont rank in the luxury class. They are appreciated for their overpowering yet extraordinarily delicate aroma. Italians eat them raw, shaved paper-thin over egg dishes, plain pasta (dressed with butter and cheese only), and other light foods. Unfortunately, they are expensive because production is minimal since they grow solely in the wild, and fluctuations in weather conditions can play havoc with their reproduction and growth.
Italy produces black truffles in greater abundance and in a wider area so that they are much more affordable. The black variety is not as odorous as the white and it is usually cooked. The tubers are processed and shipped to markets worldwide.
Bottarga is the compressed, salted and dried roe of tuna or gray mullet. Cut in thin slices, it is dressed with olive oil and lemon juice and consumed as an appetizer.
In recent decades, farmers in northern Italy have begun to produce goose and duck liver pate’ in substantial quality. At the same time, Tuscany, particularly the Chianti zone, is noted for its crostini, a rustic pate’ based on chicken livers and served on toasted unsalted Tuscan bread.