Head to any fine-dining restaurant, and you’re bound to find the word “truffle” written on the menu. But, what are truffles, really? Not everyone knows what they are or where they are coming from.
Truffle is one of the finest delicacies, often called ‘culinary gold.’ They are highly prized for flavors and aromas, so they are in demand. While they can be expensive, truffles are a delicious and unique ingredient that can elevate any dish. Using them is an excellent option if you want to add a touch of luxury to your cooking.
Truffles are edible fungi, like mushrooms. However, unlike most mushrooms, truffles grow entirely underground. They have a robust and earthy flavor and are often used in high-end cuisine.
They are sniffed out by specially-trained dogs because their keen noses can smell them even through the earth. Traditionally, pigs had done this chore. However, they couldn’t resist eating them up right away. It is also said that the scent of the truffle is similar to the pheromones of pigs, probably the reason they were delighted to embark on such a task in the first place.
Truffles are growing natively in Europe, mainly where they are most prized – in Italy. They also grow natively in Asia and North Africa. Even the US has white, brown, and black truffles growing in Oregon.
They soak up water and nutrients quite well, though they can’t use photosynthesis to turn sugar into food. Since the trees can, they begin a symbiotic relationship with their roots. They rely upon and latch to roots to get sugar and food. As a way of saying thanks, the truffles gave the trees extra water and nutrients. Truffles grow at the base of trees such as oak, cherry, hazelnut, beech, fir, and birch.
Cultivating these wild truffles is challenging because it can take a decade to grow and thrive. There have been successful attempts to cultivate them, but the best way to get them is to forage them out in the wild.
Various kinds of truffles exist, and it is not precisely known how many varieties are out there. However, only two of them are the most common ones used in cooking: the black truffle and the white truffle.
“Tuber melanosporum” is black truffle or Périgord truffle, while “Tuber magnatum” is white truffle. White truffles are also called Piedmont truffles or Alba truffles. The black ones also go by French black truffles or black winter truffles.
Black truffles are most commonly found in the Perigord region of France. On the other hand, white truffles are native to the Piedmont region of northern Italy, more specifically in the city of Alba.
However, both truffles can be found in other parts of the world, including Australia and the US.
Perigord truffles are usually dark with a matte surface that features small raised ridges that look like the bark of a tree. They can grow to 10 cm in size, and cutting one open reveals small white veins.
Alba truffles grow to 12 cm, and they have a firm flesh that is light in color, ranging from cream to light brown, and are white-marbled throughout.
White truffles season is from September through December, peaking in October and November.
For black truffles, it is December through March, with its peak in January and February.
Generally, the flavor of truffles is associated with umami, so it is savory and a combination of different flavors.
Black winter truffles have a lingering aroma and earthy, buttery, garlicky, and mushroomy flavors.
On the other hand, white truffles have a more intense flavor and pungent aroma than black truffles. The truffle flavor is quite heady with musk, an intense, spicy, garlicky taste, and a hint of earthiness.
White truffles should never be cooked because their delicate and exquisite flavors get destroyed by extreme heat. Instead, they are best served shaved over hot food, activating their truffles taste and giving you a satisfying culinary experience.
On the contrary, a little heat will bring out the flavors of the black truffles, so they are best added towards the end of the cooking process when they won’t be subjected to heat much longer.
Truffles are one of the most expensive food in the world, and their cost makes most people wonder why they are priced so.
Here are 4 reasons why these fungi are so expensive:
Truffles do not grow all year round, and just like any seasonal fruit or vegetable, this kind of scarcity fetches a high price tag.
Truffles are not being produced on a large scale, yet they are so popular, especially in fine dining restaurants. For this reason, the supply generated by the limited production does not suffice for the demand, so it reflects in the price.
Truffles are mainly composed of water, so when you take them out of the soil, their quality degrades as they dry out. They can only stay good for five days after being dug out. After this, they are still safe to eat, but their flavor and aroma would have significantly changed.
It is a labor of love if you are truffle hunting in the wild because it is not an easy endeavor. You need dogs or pigs to help you sniff out spots where truffles have grown underneath. Truffle cultivation is a complicated process, and only a few who tried have succeeded.
It will take 6 to 7 years before one can start harvesting truffles, that is, if the soil quality and the climate where they are grown permit them to develop.
Given their hefty price tag, it will be a waste if you do not know how to enjoy truffles once you get your hands on some.
Here are the best ways to enjoy truffles:
Grate or Shave Over Food
Truffles, especially white ones, are best grated or shaved over hot dishes like risotto and pasta. Shaved black truffles over a cooked pizza or just a soup taste fabulous. Lastly, shaving or grating them over dips and sauces will instantly transform your dishes.
Make Truffle Butter
Whip up your truffle butter by finely grating truffles into softened butter. Mix well and then store in a jar. Use as a rub for meat before roasting, or just about anything where you would put butter alone.
Add To Scrambled Eggs
Truffles have intense flavors, so they work well when paired with food that does not have intense flavors as well. For this reason, adding truffles to simple scrambled eggs is an excellent way to enjoy them.
Infuse to Cheese
Another great way to enjoy truffles is to infuse their flavor into cheeses. Shave truffles over slices of cheese and wrap them with plastic wrap for the cheese to absorb their flavor.
Truffles do not store well because of their extremely short shelf life. They must be consumed within days of harvest. However, if they must be stored, they must be wrapped in paper towels individually, placed in an airtight container, and kept inside the fridge.
For optimum results, change paper towels every 24 hours.
Some people think that truffle oil will be the same as truffles. Unfortunately, that’s not exactly true.
Most truffle oils in the market today are flavored using a synthetic chemical specifically created to imitate the flavor of truffles, so they are not made from truffles at all.
However, few companies still make the original truffle oil: olive oil infused with truffles themselves.
Since there are white and black truffles, there are also two types of truffle oil: white and black. It is important to note that neither of the two is suitable for frying. Their purpose is to enhance the taste of your dish as a finishing oil.
White truffle oil
Choose the white version if you want something delicate with a hint of fresh garlic. It imparts an earthly aroma to your dish. When buying, check the ingredients to ensure you get the real thing. You know that it is of the highest quality if there are bits of truffles at the bottom of the bottle.
Black truffle oil
As the fresh truffle of black variety denotes, the flavor is solid and distinct. It’s also earthly but with butter-like notes. It has a vibrant aroma and flavor with a sulfurous smell. Be mindful that this kind is not suitable for delicate dishes.
Special occasions call for unique ingredients, and there’s nothing quite like having fresh truffles to add that extra indulgence to your cuisine. However, in its absence, you can opt for truffle oil, just be sure to get the real one.
Here are a few ways to add truffle oil to your meals:
Add to pizza
Add to pasta
Add to hummus, dressings, dips, and sauces.
From a scientific standpoint, truffles are mushrooms even when they grow entirely underneath the soil. Mushrooms are defined as fruiting bodies of fungi.
Since truffles are precisely that, fruiting bodies of fungi, they are technically a kind of mushroom despite their unusual characteristics.
Truffle salt is a seasoning salt composed of salt and bits of truffles. It is a quick way to include truffles in your dishes. However, ensure that you get real truffles with the salt, not just a synthetic flavoring, to make the most out of your truffle salt.
Truffles are a great option if you’re looking for a new and exciting ingredient to add to your cooking. They are rare because of their limited supply. Use them sparingly; since they can easily overpower your dish or budget. Their unique flavor and versatility will help you create dishes that are truly memorable.