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Truffle Store Owner Suggests New Yorkers Complaining About Smell Lack Sophistication

By Leslie Albrecht | October 12, 2010 3:20pm

By Leslie Albrecht

DNAinfo Reporter/Producer

UPPER WEST SIDE — Maybe New Yorkers aren't as cosmopolitan as they think they are.

Upper West Siders are complaining about the stench from a new truffle store at West 60th Street and West End Avenue, which specializes in the underground-growing gourmet item, the New York Times reported.

But truffle purveyor Urbani Truffles says it has stores in residential buildings across the globe — and that this is the first time it has ever gotten complaints about olfactory overload.

"We are in Rome, we are Milan, we are in Paris, we are in Sao Paolo, and we have never had a problem like this before," said Urbani Truffles vice president Vittorio Giordano.

According to Giordano, Americans may not be as well informed as Europeans when it comes to truffles.

"Fifty percent of American consumers believe truffles are chocolate, so we have to educate them," he said.

But Giordano added that there's no middle ground with truffles, a pungent fungus that flourishes in dirt at the base of trees. Just a sliver of the fungus is enough to flavor a meal's worth of food.

"There are people that love truffles, and there are people that hate them," Giordano said. "It's always one way or the other, so I understand if people complain."

Some residents of 10 West End Avenue, the luxury apartment building where Urbani is setting up shop on the first two floors, are firmly in the "hate" camp. They say odors from the store are polluting their lobby and driving away buyers of apartments in the building.

A woman who's trying to sell her 21st-floor apartment for $1.8 million told the Times she's been forced to drop the asking price by $75,000.

Sandi Weinthal, a fourth-floor resident of 10 West End Avenue, told DNAinfo the smell is "annoying, but not sickening."

"It doesn't bother me, but I'm not trying to sell my apartment," she added. "It's weird more than anything else."

But Maureen Haley, a resident of West 63rd Street and West End Avenue, told DNAinfo that a friend who lives at 10 West End Avenue described the truffle smell as similar to "rotting mushrooms."

Haley said she hadn't noticed the smell walking by the store, which she's glad to see in the neighborhood.

"I think the store is really beautiful," Haley said. "Hopefully it's the start of more retail coming in."

However, some questioned the wisdom of allowing a truffles store to open in a residential building."

"They're a fungus," said Joyce Weinberg, a former buyer in the gourmet food industry, who now leads food-themed walking tours in New York.

"They aren't like other of God's creatures that are made to smell nice. They are prized for their pungency. To put a store full of this food in a residential building, it sounds like they weren't really thinking."

Weinberg compared truffles to the durian fruit of Asia, which is banned from some hotels because it's so smelly. But she noted that while truffles are stinky, they taste delicious.

The store is installing a $50,000 ventilation system that will pump truffle-tainted air away from nearby noses, Giordano said. It will open for business once the odor issue is resolved, he said.

Products will include fresh white and black truffles, and six-ounce cans of truffle-infused sauces for $9.95 suitable for flavoring pasta dishes.