Truffles: Why You Love Them…or Despise Them

Today I would like to talk about truffles. No, not the chocolate kind . . . though they are ever so delicious and so-named because they do indeed resemble a real truffle.

Truffle

I am speaking of the diamond of the culinary world, a truffle, or tartufo in Italian . . . a rare, edible mushroom that is considered to be a delicacy due to its intense aroma and characteristic flavor. They have a firm texture and are most often shaven on top of food before serving, although they can also be used to infuse flavor into dishes. Though there are hundreds of different species, only some — mostly those found in the genus Tuber — are considered delicacies. Truffles grow underground in symbiotic relationships with trees and are difficult to find; as a result, they are usually harvested in the wild by hogs and trained dogs.

Among the most popular of the different types of mushrooms that are used in foods are white mushrooms, morels, truffles and portabella mushrooms. I personally LOVE morel mushrooms! I’d really like to try some truffles to see how they compare.

Types

Truffles are usually classified mainly based on their appearance, smell, and taste. Found in a variety of regions around the world, many are commonly known by their location rather than their technical name. Their value varies depending on their rarity and specific aromatic qualities; the rarest are the most expensive food in the world.

The French black or Périgord truffle, Tuber melanosporum, is prized for its aromatic and fruity qualities. When fresh, it has a brown-black exterior with white veins on the inside. It ranges in size from a pea to an orange, and weighs up to 2.2 pounds (1 kg). These truffles are found in the Périgord region of southwestern France.

The very rare Italian white or Piedmont truffle, Tuber magnatum, has the strongest smell of all truffles. At its freshest, it has a smooth, dirty beige surface that ages to a brown. It ranges from walnut-to apple-size, weighing up to 1 pound (0.45 kg). Found in primarily in the Piedmont region in north-west Italy, its aroma and flavor decrease approximately one to two weeks after harvest.

Other notable varieties include the Oregon White truffle, the Chinese truffle, and the Summer truffle. The two varieties of the Oregon White — Tuber oregonese and Tuber gibbosum — are white when immature and develop into an orange-brown and a pale olive-brown, respectively, at maturity. The brown Chinese varieties — Tuber sinense and Tuber indicum — are found in South China and are often harvested before they have fully matured, making them less expensive and more readily available. Found in France, Italy, and Spain, the summer truffle — Tuber aestivum — is the most common truffle, and exhibits a more delicate aroma.

Harvesting and Hunting

Found approximately one foot (30 cm) under the ground, the vegetative part of the fungi — the mycelia — forms a symbiotic relationship with the roots of a variety of species of trees. Since they grow underground, truffles rely on animals to eat them and scatter their spores in order to reproduce. The strong odor of the mature truffle is what allows animals to locate them.

Truffle hunting is a lucrative business when they are in season, from fall through spring. In North America, raking back the soil and searching by sight is the usual method for harvesting. In Europe, hunters use truffle hogs and specially-trained dogs to sniff them out. The female truffle hogs become alert to the scent of the mature truffle because it is similar to the pheromones of the male hog’s saliva. The sow is difficult to hold back, however, and will readily eat the expensive delicacy if allowed to do so. In Italy, the use of the pig to hunt truffles has been prohibited since 1985 because of damage caused by animals to truffle’s mycelia during the digging that dropped the production rate of the area for some years.

For this reason, many hunters have begun to use truffle dogs, with the Lagotto Romagnolo being the only breed specifically recognized for this trait as of 2009. If you’re thinking Italian sports car, think again. This curly-coated dog is an Italian truffle hunter who is generally smart, energetic and fun-loving. Though they lack the innate ability of the hog to detect the scent, dogs can be specially trained to do so. The advantage comes when the truffle is located, as the dog is much less likely to eat it.

Truffle Dogs

Lagotto-Romagnolo – Truffle Dogs

Click on the photo above to learn more about these amazing dogs!

Culinary Use

Truffles must be carefully handled to preserve their aroma and flavor. They should be cleaned of any dirt or debris, washed with water, and dried with a paper towel. To develop their aroma after being harvested, they should be placed in an airtight container lined with paper towels and stored in the refrigerator for approximately three days. They can be stored in a glass jar for several months, but should never be dried as this will cause them to lose their pungency.

As cooking dissipates their flavor, truffles are most often served raw. They can be sliced, scraped, or grated on top of ready-to-serve dishes, sauces, or soups. They also pair well with fattier foods, such as cheeses, butters, oils, and eggs.

Infusing flavor into foods creates another use for the truffle. Thin slices of the fungus inserted just under the skin allows meats to readily absorb the flavor. Only small amounts are needed to make truffle butter, as the aroma will flavor the entire batch. It should be noted that, while they can be added to olive oil to infuse their flavor, most “truffle oil” doesn’t actually contain any truffles.

If you’d like to read more about truffles check out this great website – L’Italo-Americano:

http://www.italoamericano.org/story/2017-7-27/tartufo

Grazie to Gina Hanna for this post idea and information!

Credit also to all owners of photos and websites.

 

26 thoughts on “Truffles: Why You Love Them…or Despise Them

  1. I don’t know anything about truffles and am pretty sure I never had one. I did have an Italian nonnie (grandmother) who was born in Italy. She had a friend in New Haven who collected mushrooms. This lady was one of my grandmothers best friends. Even my Italian grandmother thought this lady was crazy for taking such a risk.

  2. I’ve never had them either. I’ve seen them plenty on tv. I even watched a video of truffle hogs in action. I would give them a try, but may need to win the lottery first.

    Now… about the chocolate ones…had a few!!! 🍬 😋

  3. I’d like to try truffles sometime. I just love morel mushrooms and used to hunt them all the time. I could smell them when they were around! OK, no jokes about morel hogs/dogs. Hey! Maybe I could train my new little Schipperke puppy, Skipper, (a.k.a. Igna so named by Jana) to hunt morels! I’d be in “hog heaven”! 🙂

  4. In some of the magazines etc. it was always indicated that eating “Truffles” was high cuisine. Since I am not likely to get close to one I decided to just read up on the subject. Never to late to learn. It took me a while to swallow a raw oyster. Never again. Was not meant to graduate past “Taco Bell”.

  5. I had the pleasure of trying these in Italy last year. I ordered some dish that had shaved truffles on top of it. They were exquisite. I’m not a huge mushroom fan, but these were really good.

  6. Yes, it is true truffles are considered part of the high kitchen.
    Personally I’m not a big truffle eater, tasted them several times and I did not always like it. They have a scent and an intense flavor and for this reason they are scattered on food in modest quantities.
    The mushrooms, however, I like very much, in my garden there is a large tree that produces good quantity and are very good.

    • oh wow, Daniela!….. i have not tried the mushroom itself,
      but the dishes with some bit of truffle…. i really like them.

      thanks much for this post, PitterPat0 and Gina!

  7. Whatever I have had with truffles was…okay but I fail to see why people make such a fuss about them. I guess that means I fail as a true gourmet

    • Pirate! Have you aver tried frying fresh, sliced mushrooms in a little butter and olive oil? They’re great just like that. You can also take it and mix it into some cooked linguine or vermicelli, or you can have it with scrambled eggs for breakfast. Not gourmet, but tastes like it, mate! I’ll give a truffle a try maybe someday — if the opportunity ever presents itself. In the meantime, regular ol’ fungi is good enough ‘far the likes o’ me’! Aye!

  8. I think “Truffles” would make a really cute name for a dog! Will remember that for my future fur-angel.🐶 Well, maybe not my very next doggy, for his name will be “Piero.” 💖

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