14 Jul2006

Black Truffles

by Marketman

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Black Truffles are considered the “Diamond of the Dining Table.” At Euro 280 ($360) per kilo at this shop in Rome, they seem like a “bargain” when compared to the finest Iranian saffron, which I might call the “Bleeding Rubies” at upwards of $1,500-2,000 per kilo (you only need a few strands…) or Beluga caviar, or “Black Pearls” at upwards of $3,000 a kilo for the finest quality purchased in Europe (no longer legal in the U.S.). I have only tasted dishes with black truffles a half dozen times in my entire life and while they were generally memorable, it must have been partially aided by the great hubbub that surrounds this vaunted ingredient. What’s the big deal, anyway?… I mean, folks grow fungus on their feet that hogs could find but wouldn’t dare eat…

Black Truffles are a fungus that grow completely underground, typically on the roots of certain oak trees with whom they have a “close” relationship. The fungus “ripens” after several months of growth and it is at that point that hogs are traditionally used to sniff them out…but try and discourage a hog that has found a truffle from EATING it! So today, dogs are more likely the partner of choice for a truffle hunter. Truffles have a very strong and distinctive fragrance and taste and I struggled for a while to figure out how to describe them…but the only way I could think off was that they tasted like TRUFFLE-Y… I know, that doesn’t help if you haven’t tasted it yet, so you’ll just have to try some when you have a chance. Black summer truffles from Italy are more common, less sought after, possess a milder flavor and cost a lot less than the black winter truffles from the Perigord area of France which might cost 4-6x more. Truffles are best shaved onto pastas, risottos or eggs to best enjoy their pungent aroma and unique taste. I have read in several places that just placing bits of truffles near eggs imparts a wonderful flavor to the eggs that are then cooked (usually scrambled) afterwards… You only use a few grams of truffle per serving so the cost is actually less extravagant on a per serving basis than some good caviar. And for the curious, no, I did not buy any truffles and was just content with taking a photo instead… But in retrospect, I should have as a small real truffle may have cost about the same as the two tartufo desserts in the previous post! Finally, if you want to get a taste but can’t fathom buying the real thing…try some good truffle oil that has the essence without the damage to the wallet.

 

COMMENTS:

  1. Mandy says:

    we always have truffle oil at home– however, what’s the difference between the black and the white truffle (from piedmont –spelling?)? i so love how it smells, i put it in pasta, chicken, anything that has mushrooms in it. so how does the real thing taste like? like its scent?

    Jul 14, 2006 | 11:43 am

     
  2. anonymous paul says:

    i could say it has an almost vaporous but, nonetheless, fantastic aroma. a drizzle of white truffle oil on a sunny side up propped on griled bread is a great saturday morning treat. oh, and sprinkled with sea salt and cracked pepper

    Jul 14, 2006 | 11:45 am

     
  3. Marketman says:

    There are three main types of truffles, white, black and grey. White is predominantly from Piedmont and the Italians think it is better than black. Nice big black ones are from the Perigord area of France (as well as some parts of Italy) and the French think black is better. Grey are sometimes found in North America…most folks think inferior to black or white. Then there are dessert truffles from Africa… I am not an expert so I have no opinion on which is best. The truffle oil is probably made by sinking the truffles or extracting its essence and mixing with the oil… I can’t describe the truffle taste adequately, all I know is that if I eat some pasta with truffles shaved on top, I would probably identify the truffles if blindfolded. It is pungent, aromatic, rich, memorable and extravagant…

    Jul 14, 2006 | 11:47 am

     
  4. axel says:

    White truffles are almost exclusively found in around Alba in Piemonte. They’re more intense than blacks and they have an affinity with eggs. But I love them in risottos, preferably washed down with a good Barolo. They cost nearly twice the price of blacks. Black truffles are also found in Italy, but is more prevalent in France, specifically in Perigord and around Provence. In Peter Mayle’s book, Year in Provence, there’s a funny story there about hunting truffles using pigs instead of dogs. China also has been producing black truffles, cheaper but of a less intense kind. Black truffles are usually combined with equally pricey, decadent food such as foie gras and lobster. I’ve also enjoyed them mixed in sauces with roast chicken, quail, and guinea hen and salads with sweet breads.

    Like Mandy and anonymous paul, I like truffle oils, particularly white truffle oil which is more intense-relatively inexpensive, easy to store, and easy to use. I drizzle them in warm pasta, particularly white pasta, pizzas, chicken, and risottos. Always great with a Nebbiolo-based wine, but a light Bordeaux would do as well.

    Jul 14, 2006 | 2:57 pm

     
  5. virgilio says:

    A Pinoy friend who lives in NY brags that he cooks chicken adobo with boiled eggs and drizzles of truffle oils so when he came here a couple of weeks ago I asked him to do this for me. Nothing special because the vinegar and the toyo in the adobo are so strong that the truffle oil was defeated. Chunks of parmesan cheese dipped in truffle oil is heaven.

    Jul 14, 2006 | 4:19 pm

     
  6. Jul says:

    Truffles are now being cultivated in Australia. Hopefully they perfect the process and make it cheaper for everyone to enjoy this wonderful fungi. Check out this link: http://www.abc.net.au/landline/content/2004/s1250667.htm

    Jul 14, 2006 | 4:44 pm

     
  7. SimplePleasure says:

    i’ve heard on the cooking show on the telly that truffles are very expensive. are they anything like chocolate truffles? like the melt in your mouth or its like woodsy?

    Jul 14, 2006 | 5:13 pm

     
  8. Marketman says:

    The chocolate confection was named after the real thing…you have to shave the truffles on most dishes and they don’t quite melt in your mouth but they arent hard at all…

    Jul 14, 2006 | 6:29 pm

     
  9. Wilson Cariaga says:

    I haven’t tried truffles but what I remember, truffle oil smells a bit garlic-y. . . tell me if that was bad quality. . .

    Jul 14, 2006 | 6:32 pm

     
  10. Toni says:

    I haven’t come upon any truffles here in Manila. Now let me find some truffle oil instead!

    Jul 14, 2006 | 6:57 pm

     
  11. Marketman says:

    Toni, Terry’s selection sometimes carries truffles in vacuum packed cans in their deli chiller. You can also get them in a small bottle with oil. But again, truffle oil is probably better value to start off with… Wilson, some folks say particular types of truffles have a faint garlic taste but I don’t remember that from the truffles I’ve eaten… perhpas the oil was going rancid?

    Jul 14, 2006 | 7:59 pm

     
  12. fried-neurons says:

    The white truffles from Italy are significantly more expensive than the black ones (from either Italy or France), at least here in the US. When truffle season comes around you can get them at Dean and Deluca, but you have to pay through the nose.

    If you’re ever in California Wine Country during white truffle season, you can try to get a reservation at La Toque. The restaurant is famous for its seasonal truffle menu.

    Jul 15, 2006 | 1:56 am

     
  13. ykmd says:

    axel, that story re “le super cochon” is in another one of his books, Toujours Provence (I know this for a fact only because I just finished rereading it last weekend). He wrote a chapter about black truffles in “Acquired Tastes” and mentions a mass to celebrate truffles in “French Lessons”. BTW, MM, your writing style reminds me of Mr. Mayle, which I think is the reason why I’ve been rereading his books. Your posts always make my mouth water! Thanks for sharing!

    Jul 15, 2006 | 4:14 am

     
  14. sha says:

    ohh been to alba where this is abundant… been tasting and eating truffles for a while since been working for those who can afford ;-)

    omelette with truffle slices
    risotto with truffle shavings

    ahh heaven

    seems no ifs and buts on truffles either like it or hate it

    hello from capri (we were near sorento positano area today)

    Jul 15, 2006 | 6:11 am

     
  15. gonzo says:

    I like truffles and caviar and all the rest of it but would never actually buy these luxury foods for myself because i find the price does not match the gustatory pleasure, if that makes any sense. But if i see it in someone’s house, look out!

    And yes, i too enjoyed all the Peter Mayle books. Maybe it’s time to re-read a few. I think he may be single-handedly responsible for the current English invasion and occupation of the Southern French countryside!

    Btw, another absolutely brilliant writer is Bill Bryson. If you have never heard of him, i suggest an immediate trip straight to the Fully Booked Rockwell travel section and a quick purchase of any book written by Bryson. You can thank me later. Wonderfully witty writing.

    Jul 15, 2006 | 6:21 am

     
  16. Marketman says:

    Flattery will get readers everywhere…heehee, I am amused that I am being compared to Mayle and many moons ago Jeffrey Steingarten…you see, they are WRITERS and I am not…I can’t even figure out when to put an apostrophe! Heehee. Sha, omigod, I would give a minor body part to do the marketing for someone who has no budget! Did you get any lemons from Sorrento? Gonzo, I agree the prices seem exhorbitant but once in a while, a splurge is good…my sister has a good friend in Russia that once facilitated a two kilo can of fresh caviar that was brought back to New York…talk about salt overdose!!! And yes, Bryson is good.

    Jul 15, 2006 | 9:45 am

     
  17. Bay_leaf says:

    Truffles shaved on fettucine…heaven!

    and Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence is one of my fave books ever. He’s very funny. :)

    Thanks for the tip on Bryson, will check him out.

    Jul 17, 2006 | 5:10 am

     
  18. Mila says:

    I enjoyed reading all the food related essays that Mayle wrote about in his Provence series, plus his book about French/Provence food and cooking, French Lessons.
    Bill Bryson I enjoy for his sarcastic and historical tramps around the world. Sometimes he can be a bit to snide, but he can tear a laugh out of me when he shares the stories (his story telling sometimes reminds me of Carlos Celdran’s walking tours. All the gossip!).
    As for truffles, I’m having dinner tonight at La Grotta, I hear their truffle cream sauce is quite good.

    Jul 17, 2006 | 1:16 pm

     
  19. Katrina says:

    Hey Mila, let me know if you liked the truffle cream pasta. If you love arugula, also try the appetizer of flatbread rolled with arugula. It’s a very simple dish, but since it’s a big plate good for about 4 people, it’s a nice, cheap starter to munch on while waiting for the pasta. :-)

    By the way, for all who want Italian food with lots of wine at no extra cost, Caffe Caruso (Reposo St.) has a promo this week in honor of Italy’s World Cup win: every 2 people gets a free bottle of wine!!! It’s just their house Chianti, but why not?! I’m planning a dinner there with friends as we speak. If you see a bald girl scarfing down baskets upon baskets of bread, please do say “hello!” ;-)

    Jul 17, 2006 | 3:36 pm

     
  20. grainne healy says:

    Hi there

    I am currently living in Rome but due to finish up in about 4 weeks and return home to Ireland. I have been fortunate to enjoy a couple of amazing pasta dishes cooked with black truffle (maybe real thing or oil), not quite sure. Can anyone advise me where I can buy some truffle in Rome as I would like to buy a little before returning home.

    Thanks

    Aug 3, 2006 | 8:19 pm

     
  21. Marketman says:

    grainne, if the pasta dishes had black truffles shaved and sprinkled on top, it was the real thing, otherwise, likely to have been an infused oil… at any rate, the top gourmet store/s in Rome have to be Franchi and Castroni that are side by side on a large avenue fairly close to the Vatican, that’s where I photographed the black truffles in the window above…

    Aug 3, 2006 | 9:56 pm

     
  22. mo albaj says:

    Are there experts here in Manila who can
    identify a raw truffle when they see one?

    We have found in the highlands of Mindanao
    what may turn out to be white truffles as
    described in some posts on this subject.

    We can show samples to anyone interested.

    Jan 19, 2008 | 2:09 pm

     
  23. Marketman says:

    mo albaj, how interesting that you think you have found truffles in Mindanao! I don’t enough about them to identify them, but I would be CAREFUL. It is a fungus after all and if it isn’t the edible kind… I would be worried! :( After all, many mushrooms are poisonous while others taste utterly delicious!

    Jan 19, 2008 | 3:14 pm

     
  24. Jerry Kuri says:

    I am quite interested in knowing more about perigord black truffles, its market, and any other information. I would really appreciated send me some pictures also.

    jerry

    Apr 7, 2008 | 11:17 am

     
  25. Jerry Kuri says:

    well, i think there is an abundance of this type growing almost anywhere in our locality, here in Papua New Guinea. I would appreciate if you could make arrange for direct export as soon as possible. Please, provide me with any information about its market. Send me some of the pictures also.

    Jerry

    Apr 7, 2008 | 11:36 am

     
 

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