In the Umbrian hillside there are pigs that are trained to sniff out the ripest, most delicious truffles. They’re special pigs with long noses that unearth the prized tartufo. Truffle farmers wrestle the pigs to the ground and pull the big black orbs out of the pigs mouth – you see, pigs love truffles as much as humans do – why do you think their so eager to dig them up!
Truffles are cherished all over Italy, prices are as high as gold, truffle crimes are punished with real jail time and dishes made with tartufo are embraced with rapture.
In the village of Orvieto, Le Grotte del Funaro make a pasta and truffle dish that is out of this world. The warm pasta brings out the truffle aroma that wafts in your direction commanding your immediate attention. Slip a few strands into your mouth and the warm, luscious, brown mushroomy richness strokes your pallet before fluttering down your throat like feathery ribbons of silk. With the heat of your body, the flavours expand, filling every inch with pure pleasure. Local food doesn’t get any better than this.
Unless of course, you live in Ontario. There is a sap that drips from frozen maple trees in the forests when the frigid Canadian winter decides to ease up a bit. Maple producers patiently collect the sap, one drip at a time and transform it into one amazing Canadian treasure. Pour the glistening syrup over panna cotta, candied bacon ice cream or a stack of corn cakes and you will swoon over it as an Italian would be euphoric over tartufo.
The luscious, burly liquid luxuriates across the palate releasing flavour of warm, sensuous spiciness with a flicker of tangerine that play through the layers of sultry sunlight. It slowly moves down your throat like velvet gold caressing your entire body filling all of your pleasure centres with strokes of satisfaction, contentment and amusement. This is Ontario maple syrup at its best.
Dressed with high boots, maple syrup farmers walk the winter forests blanketed with snow and check the trees for the right time, the perfect time when their frozen veins thaw and express themselves. Each tree is tapped and buckets placed to catch every drip of clear, thick liquid from the trees as they wake from a long winters nap. Then as the snow is cleared away, the fires lit, the liquid is transformed into a luscious enchanted nectar.
Long ago, maple syrup was poured over pancakes to give them flavour, to soak up all of the syrup to make a spongy, delicious dish. Today, maple syrup has risen to the sophistication of elegant dishes and adorns flavours like cooked custard, eggy soufflés, and candied bacon brioche. Maple goes further to round out savoury dishes like roasted squash with caramelized maple, barbecued ribs with maple glaze and grilled salmon with a maple crust. There is no end to the different ways maple syrup can pleasure your palate and your favourite foods.
Each country has one product that it heralds as the one sublime experience you can’t get anywhere else. And when it’s wrapped around terroir it becomes more than a culinary ingredient, it becomes an expression of authentic Canadian culture. How lucky are we to live in such a rich agricultural province, Ontario. Celebrate every day by buying local and supporting our culinary treasures and edible heritage that give Canadians as much pleasure as Italians.