The truffle traders of Dubai

Buyers of the most expensive fungus in the world are constantly sniffing out the next best deals from Europe. But their hunt for the elusive Dubai truffle goes on...

Dubai is becoming a bigger market for truffle imports, year by year, and this one should see us devouring our share and more. The quality is up, and the price is down. There are Alban white truffles on any restaurant menu that comes with the scent of prestige, and the Perigords (French black truffles) are going to hit us shortly.

Truffles are the most expensive fungi in the world, but this year the prices are down by at least a third. A good sized Alban truffle will set you back around €2000 a kilogram, when they were going for over €4000 in 2009. There’s even been a 1.89kg truffle this year – double the Guinness world record, sold recently in New York for more than $70,000.

They all know of the desert truffles, these 'gifts from God' and it seems finding one is almost a magical experience

And yet, it’s also a premium crop with respect to quality. Massimo Vidoni of Italtouch, Dubai’s “Truffle Man”, says the white truffles from Italy are the best he’s seen in a decade. Plenty of summer rain and nutrient rich snow melt have contributed to complex flavours and larger tubers. A win on both accounts.

The premium traders of truffles in Dubai are undoubtedly Italtouch and Ramelli. Italtouch have had a firm hold in the region for many years, and founder Massimo can be found visiting the best restaurants in Dubai, a 40 thousand dollar sack tucked under his arm, trading white gold to the fortunate few in the know.

His list of clients stretch from the likes of Zuma, Qbara and La Petit Maison through to picky private buyers who know exactly what they want, clients he will even fly over to Italy to get a first-hand look at the origin. He’s been in the business here so long, many of his clients are now more than that – they are friends, with relationships bonded over love of his underground treasures.

Arab, European, Asian, everyone loves truffles – it’s not a product that is kept within a demographic. Interesting, considering it’s distinctive and pungent flavour, which many would think could only be matched with simple ingredients. But Romolus Taha of Ramelli Truffles says there is no barrier. He’s got clients putting them with chocolate, shaving them on sushi, who knows – there might actually be a chicken and truffle shawarma out there!

Burgundy truffles
Burgundy truffles like the one pictured fill the gaps when black and white truffles are out of season

Ramelli are a younger firm in the Dubai market, and have challenged themselves with the task of modernising a 3000-year-old ingredient. He’s taken the youthful moniker of ‘Truffle Guy’, and is putting truffles in maple syrup and martinis, making people’s tastebuds pop.

It’s been a bumper year for truffles in this desert city. But not so for desert truffles. In the sight of all this abundance, our own desert truffle has all but disappeared. A lack of rain, and the fabled lightning strikes to spawn these faqah, have meant we’re not seeing any local produce at all this year.

Both our ‘Truffle Man’ and ‘Truffle Guy’ have an interest in the local product, which is not as closely related to the European truffles as the name would suggest. Massimo is very curious about them, but still making his mind up. He’s enjoyed them in stews with meat, and revels in the stories told to him by Emiratis. They all know of the desert truffles, these 'gifts from God' and it seems finding one is almost a magical experience.

Rami is still hoping to experience a desert truffle hunt, and in fact is waiting to try his first, as is your writer here. It seems this season is out – let’s hope for some magic next year.