Did you know truffles are actually an ingredient that excites gastronomes? Known as the diamonds in the culinary world, even after shavings of the ingredient gives your dish the luxury upheaval.
What makes truffles so special?
Why makes this diamond an equal prized ingredient? Why is it so special for chefs? Even the most sought out variety costs a whopping $5,000 a pound. But are they worth it?
Truffles sprout wherever the environment is sustainable. It’s rare and scarce and the ever changing taste of the people keeps demanding it again and again. But as expensive as they may be, the more you get to know about them the more you will begin to like them. Even if they are pungent and it may not look like your taste in the beginning.
So, what are truffles?
In simple words. It’s an edible fungi that grows underground among some particular types of trees. The fungi and the tree actually share a freaky nice relationship. The fungi help in absorbing water and nutrients so the tree can flourish while the tree provides the fungi with sugars so the fungi can thrive.
So, apart from being a luxurious food they are important for the ecosystem as well.
As said, truffles have a long history. According to ancient Rome and Greece, it was said they had healing properties. By the time Renaissance arrived,truffles began to be associated with the upper class. After World War l and World War ll, their cultivation dropped drastically. But it reemerged in the 60s and 70s.
Today they grow in temperate climates and can be found in some regions of the US, France, Italy, and Australia.
Their size and appearance varies depending on its species. Some have a smooth surface with a solid interior. While some have a bumpy texture with a marble interior. They come in ivory to muted black and rich burgundy color.
The region plays a major role in the harvesting of truffles and gives it its peculiar taste. But one thing we can say clearly is, they are rich in umami and taste just like their smell. Truffles are known to be musky, oaky, nutty and earthy.
If you are thinking then aren’t mushrooms also edible fungi like our prized ingredient? Yes, both are edible fungi. However, they grow in different places and the conditions are totally different for them to thrive in.
Types of Truffles
You can find many species of truffles all over the world. But black, white and burgundy are the most common types. Here’s a bit detail on them:
Tuber Melanosporum aka Black Truffles
They are also known as French black truffles or Perigord truffles. Black ones are more popular as they are common and therefore cost less. They have a less pungent flavor than the other types.
They grow mainly in Spain, France and Italy. The typical black truffle looks quite similar to a solid clump of soil. The flavor is a mixture of woody, musky, and chocolaty. The executive chef, Bonnie Shuman, at Weavers Way in Philadelphia says the black truffle buttery nuance pairs well with game and beef meats alike. And goes great with creamy roasted vegetable risottos as well.
Tuber Magnatum Pico aka White Truffles
Contrary to its name, these truffles actually have a pale, yellowish exterior color. They are reminiscent of a rough skin lumpy potato. Most of them are found in Alba, a town in Italy’s Piedmont region. And because of this they are highly priced.
The chef over at Hungry, Jason Smith, says white truffle is well known for its pungent flavor. Its aroma is often compared with shallots. The garlicky taste does wonders with pasta, potatoes, fish, salads, and flatbreads. You could also try Shuman’s favorite, shave over scrambled or poached eggs.
Tuber Aestivum aka Burgundy Truffle
As they are particular to their harvesting month, they are also known as autumn truffles. Compared to their black counterparts they are less priced as they have a lighter taste. Burgundy truffles basically grow in Italy and France. They are characterized due to their unmistakable red dark brown color.
Burgundy truffle has a delicate yet distinctive taste. It’s often described as a mix of hazelnuts and mushrooms. Because of their softer flavor, they are well-suited to a wide variety of dishes, including game meats.
Again, why the hefty price tag?
By now it’s clear truffles is an ingredient in the culinary world that comes with a heavy price tag. A fresh truffle can range from anything between $5 to $300 per ounce. Even though it is available throughout the year it depends on the type that’s available.
Being a highly seasonal and notoriously difficult ingredient to grow, it comes with a hefty price tag. They require a specific environment to grow in. And nowadays with climate changes, these habitats are being impacted as well. On top of this, they have a relatively short shelf life and that too when they take years to cultivate.
How can you use truffles?
Here’s a recipe for Truffle pasta. We’re sure you will like it.
In Italy truffles are often [paired with pasta. Tagliatelle pasta as well.
If you’ve been to five star hotels and had or seen a fine dine setting, you might have seen thinly shaved truffles over fresh pasta.
As for how you can use them, it depends mainly on the type you get. Though, good news, the easiest way for incorporating fresh truffles in any dish is – use them raw. According to Smith, if you want a classy way to use truffles, shave them over a risotto, pasta or pizza.
If stored properly, Black and burgundy truffles can last for about one to two weeks. White on the other hand should be savored within a maximum of five days. Obviously you would like to preserve their delicate aroma and flavor. Smith advises you to wrap them in a paper towel. And place them inside a jar with a tight lid. And keep them in the coolest part of your fridge. Remember moisture is the biggest enemy of truffles. So make sure you change the paper towels daily so they stay dry.
Truffle Based Products
If you’re not able to or not willing to splurge into buying fresh truffles, you can always opt for truffle oil.
A spoiler alert though: Most of the truffle oils available in the market are imitations. They don’t really have truffles as an ingredient. Rather the main ingredient is the imitation oil. Which in reality is a chemical. (2,4-Dithiapentane) is actually designed to mimic the exact flavor and aroma of truffles.
While buying truffle oil, make sure they have real truffles as well. This way you’ll know the oil is authentic. Truffle oil helps in elevating dips, spreads and sauces as well. According to Shuman, you should check the ingredient list and make sure truffles are in the first few ingredients. And remember truffle oil goes a long way.
Apart from truffle oil, you can also use truffle infused products like hot sauce, butter, salt, cream and paste.
Still, if you manage to procure fresh truffles, chefs recommend starting simple. You can add them on your pizza, eggs or as said above, in pasta dishes. Remember to add tons of cheese and butter. But remember you don’t need too much truffle or truffle oil. Even a small amount is more than enough to give your dish the aroma you need.