But in a world full of manipulative marketers, the truffle is the real deal. A type of fungus that grows on tree roots, the truffle stands on the right side of the line between decomposition and decadence. ... These fickle cousins of mushrooms have proven impossible to mass produce; they are still dug up individually by dogs that track their scent. ... The truffle stands in stark contrast to our era of convenience: the preservatives in bread that allow it to stay fresh for weeks and the year-round availability of seasonal fruits and vegetables. ... The combination of these two trends—the desire for a convenient, ever-ready supply of an ingredient, and a hunger for the traditional, the rare, and “real food”—led to what would seem to be a remarkably successful scam on foodie culture: truffle oil. ... Despite truffle oil's poor provenance, though, it has been used and praised by both average joes and renowned chefs. Truffle oil has been a remarkably successful con. ... taste is a slippery concept that is susceptible to psychological trickery and difficult to discuss objectively. Many embarrassed gourmands have realized that they were equating true truffles with smelly olive oil, but amateurs and experts alike easily confuse the good stuff and the cheap stuff whether it’s wine, sushi, or chicken picatta.
Bringing people back from death’s door is Catena’s moonlight gig – she is on shift from 6pm to 2am six to eight times a month. By day, she is the managing director of Catena Zapata, the flagship brand of a family-owned company that sells bottles worth over $140m a year, making it Argentina’s second-biggest wine exporter. The firm was founded in 1902 by her great-grandfather Nicola Catena, and she assumed the reins from her father Nicolás in 2009. She spends four months a year in Argentina overseeing the winery’s operations, and two more as the olive-skinned, pony-tailed “face of Argentine wine”, promoting her products at tastings and dinners across the globe. She manages her staff of 120 via Skype and WhatsApp. ... Catena insists she sees her role as that of a detective, not an inventor. And she has modelled the CIW not after the development arm of a pharmaceutical firm, synthesising precious new compounds from scratch, but rather the upstream division of an oil company, searching for natural treasures the Earth has hidden away. ... how can destroying wine help Catena Zapata make its tipples taste better rather than worse? The answer is that the CIW is using baking as a kind of stress test: all wines subjected to this treatment will suffer, but some will suffer more and others less.