Macau casino mogul Stanley Ho bid US$330,000 (RM1 million) for a pair of white truffles, matching the record price he paid in 2007 for one of the rarified fungal delicacy unearthed in Tuscany. The billionaire made the winning bid on Saturday at a charity auction through representatives of his company, Sociedade de Jogos de Macau.
The auction was staged at Ho’s Grand Lisboa hotel in the former Portuguese colony of Macau, with bidders participating simultaneously in Florence and London through satellite link. Ho outbid luxo-artist Damien Hirst (of multi-million-dollar diamond skull fame), among others, said auction organizer Giselle Oberti. Ho is best known for his casino monopoly in Macau, a gambling enclave in southern China near Hong Kong.
The pair included a huge truffle dug up in the central Tuscany region weighing 900 grams as well as one found in Molise weighing in at 400 grams.
The larger truffle was dug up recently by truffle hunter Cristiano Savini, his father Luciano and dog Rocco in Palaia, a town about 25 miles from Pisa. The Savinis said Rocco started sniffing “like crazy” when he zeroed in on the fungus.
Proceeds from the auction were to go to an Italian organization that helps sufferers of genetic diseases, a group that helps street children in London and Catholic charities in Macau.
Guinness World Records lists a 2.86 pound white truffle found in Croatia in 1999 as the biggest.
Truffles are a fungus. They are related to mushrooms, puffballs and bracket fungi. They usually weigh from 1 to 2.8 ounces apiece. Slivers of white truffles, with their strong aroma, are prized in Italy to flavor pasta sauces and rice dishes.
Just about every truffle that lands on your plate has to be found—underground, mind you—by a human being, usually with the help of a specially trained mushroom-sniffing dog. All species of truffle (in the Tuber genus) are ectomycorrhizal, meaning they require a symbiotic relationship with roots of specific trees to live. The truffles, sprouting underground attached to the roots, get easy access to the nourishing sugars created by the tree during photosynthesis. The tree gets the benefit of increased root surface area with which water and nutrients can be better absorbed.
Truffles are one of the outstanding gourmet foods of the world. The best truffles are found in the soils of northern Italy and southern France, but they are found in other parts of the world, too. The European truffle-hunters use trained dogs to sniff out the truffles in the ground and dig them out. Such dogs are worth several thousand dollars. But the truffle hunting man and his dog may find a bushel or so and the man does not have to work for the rest of the year.
Think of them as expensive, top-flight gourmet foods. Truffles are indeed the world’s costliest food ingredient. Now you know why Stanley Ho paid such a high price for them.