There’s something about truffles that seems to drive foodies and chefs into a frenzy. We don’t often see people go crazy over fungus (quite the opposite, really), but when they do, it’s always truffles. Fall season gives way to many wonderful culinary treasures, truffles included and we’ve been waiting all year. Those who are unfamiliar with these rock-like lumps, which almost resemble meteorites from space more than they do food may be asking what the deal is with these pricy fungi. Here is the 411 on truffles with ten things you need to know before purchasing them.
1. Truffles are neither chocolates nor mushrooms. Though many are only familiar with the edible chocolate-coated edibles at candy stores, truffles are actually not chocolates. And while truffles share similarly earthy and deep umami flavors as mushrooms, their differences extend far beyond their appearance. Truffles are actually the fruiting body of a fungus found in forested areas nearby the tree roots. Fungi are unable to produce their own food, hence why they attach themselves to tree roots.
2. Truffles are found most prevalently in the Middle East Europe, mostly throughout France and Italy. Some of the world’s rarest truffles are limited to specific regions, such as the French Périgord Black Truffle, also fondly known as the “Diamond of Périgord”, which is only found burrowed in the roots in a specific oak tree native to the region. And while they are still considered one a worldwide prized delicacy, there is a small but growing movement of truffle growers in the United States.
3. Truffles earn their pricey reputation not only they’re challenging to grow and cultivate. They also have a short shelf life. It can take a tree ten to fifteen years produce truffles. They don’t tend to keep for very long and are usually fresh for only two weeks following harvest. If you are unable to use them immediately, you can freeze them for up to six months in an airtight-sealed bag or container.
4. Between white truffles and black truffles, white truffles are the most prized in the world. White truffles are exclusively foraged while black truffles can be cultivated. The Italian White Truffle is found specifically in one small Italian region and is tracked by specially trained pigs and boasts an aromatic and complex flavor unlike any other in the world. However, this isn’t to knock black truffles, as they are nearly, if not, just as delicious as white truffles. The Italian Black Summer Truffle has a mild and delicate taste and aroma with subtle flavor that is simply divine shaved over pasta, eggs and crepes.
5. Truffles are beneficial to your health. Although you probably don’t need more reasons to eat truffles, truffles actually tote quite a few health benefits. They’re a great source of high protein and contains all of the essential amino acids for nutrition. They’re also cholesterol-free and low in fat, making it ideal for adding flavor to a dish in place of high-calorie sauces and dressings.
6. Black truffles are often best served cooked. When cooked, black truffles release a delectable flavor that’s intensified by heat. Consider placing thin slices of black truffle underneath the skin of chicken or duck before roasting. For a classic culinary pairing, you can add black truffles to wild game such as venison, boar and elk or to beef and pork. An exception to this are summer black truffles which have a more mild and nutty flavor than their winter counterparts. Those can be served raw or slightly warmed up, such as shaved generously over salad or pasta.
7. On the other hand, white and burgundy are best served raw. White truffles are not able to withstand the heat from cooking and are generally softer than black truffles. Cooking white truffles for too long tends to dissipate their flavor and aroma. Therefore, either serving them raw or warming them slightly best enhances them while preserving their smooth and savory flavor. Similarly to white truffles, with its delicate flavor and intense aroma, Italian Burgundy Truffle are best served in the same fashion.
8. Simple foods that complement the flavor of truffles work best. Dairy products such as butter and cream sauces work wonderfully with the rich, decadent flavor of truffles. It’s best to keep the flavors light to allow the truffles to shine through. Truffle butter, cheeses with the exception of Brie, Parmesan and Gruyere, both do wonderfully over meats or even burgers. And don’t forget about truffles shaved over mashed potatoes or root vegetables such as parsnips, carrots.
9. Aged wines pair best with truffles. Like wines that acquire their complex flavor over time, truffles develop a wild and musky depth that matches well with wine. Red wines pair well with white truffles because of their earthy notes that help the flavor of the truffles linger on the palette. For black truffles, a medium-bodied white wine that doesn’t have as much acidity won’t challenge their flavor.
10. Want to go hunting for truffles? Find yourself a dog. Truffles have always been traditionally hunted by pigs, due to their heightened sense of smell which made them ideal for foraging for truffles in highly dense forested areas. The only problem? The pigs in turn had a tendency to eat them, particularly because the musky aromas of truffles are closely associated with the mating hormones of pigs. Try pulling a 300-pound pigs away from truffles and you can imagine how that scenario might go down. With their adept sense of smell, dogs have replaced pigs as the ideal hunter for truffles among truffle hunters due to their trainability, obedience and stamina.
Have you ever had truffles before? Which ones were your favorite?