Most people know what to expect when they see truffle on a restaurant’s menu. If it’s the real deal, not just truffle oil, they know that meal will cost a pretty penny. Truffles give off an intoxicating flavor and signify the utmost luxury even to the most satiated palates. But what makes the black truffle mushroom so rare and so desirable?
No other ingredient can match the taste of a black truffle, which grows underground and is foraged with the help of female pigs. Truffles have a marvelous history and the most famous chefs and cooks are willing to pay up small fortunes for them. The rare mushrooms can be sold for as much as $1200 a pound – even though people rarely buy such a large amount.
What Is a Black Truffle?
Mentioning the black truffle or black Périgord truffle conjures up the classic image of the expensive French black truffle (Tuber melanosporum) from the southwest France. This exquisite ingredient is not a standalone meal, but is used instead to make pâté de foie gras.
The odorous white truffle (Tuber magnatum) of Alba, found in the Piedmont district of Italy, is, in fact, the most popular truffle. The black truffle is only the second-most commercially valuable species, and it grows with oak and hazelnut trees. Late autumn and winter are the only times when black truffles can be harvested.
History of Truffles
Since the Greeks and Romans were kings of the earth, truffles were held in high regard. These fungi were Europe’s delicacies, aphrodisiacs, and medicines – all in one. Then, some centuries later, in 1994, black truffle prices started going even higher up. They ended up being sold for $350 to $500 a pound.
In the United States, cooking truffles are rarely collected in the forests of Oregon and Washington. In Europe, however, they are at home; most black and white truffles can be found in France and Italy. Pigs and mixed-breed dogs – also known as truffle hunters – are used to sniff out the truffles.
At the moment, truffles are among the most expensive natural foods in the world, which means they are only served in minuscule sizes.
Why Are Truffles So Rare?
One of the most known facts about truffles – aside from their unparalleled taste – is how rare they are. The white ones, for example, can only be found a couple of months of the year and almost exclusively from one small district of Italy. It also doesn’t help that there are fewer truffles every year, and of lesser quality.
All of these combined make truffles the perfect luxury commodity. They are already quite precious and will only get more so over time. Truffles have a unique aroma, undoubtedly, a “combination of newly plowed soil, fall rain, burrowing earthworms and the pungent memory of lost youth and old love affairs.”
Alex Guarnaschelli, the chef of Butter, a high-end restaurant in New York City, said that truffles “conjure up images of a locker room. But the aroma deceptively conceals their complex yet delicate taste. They are sublime.”
Global Demand Outstrips Harvest
Due to how expensive truffles are and how far they have to travel to reach restaurants all over the world, one might wonder if the demand will start to decrease. This would be especially possible in the current recession-hobbled, local-foods-loving culinary scene.
However, according to John Magazino of Primizie Fine Foods, one of the primary truffle importers in the U.S., there’s more demand than ever. Apparently, “the global appetite for white truffles, especially the ones from around Alba, Italy, has utterly outstripped the harvest.”
Over the past decade, there has been a general decline in both quantity and quality of truffles, so much so that there are never enough to go around. The decrease in “production” is explained by the leeching of fungicides into the soil, and the effects of global warming, among other factors.
Impossible to Be Faked
How is it possible that truffles cannot be faked, cloned, or artificially grown in a hothouse? Even though farmers have found a way to cultivate the inferior black or Périgord truffle, the white ones remain elusive. Right now, the only way to get them is to set pigs – or dogs – loose on the Italian hills to find the precious mushrooms.
It might sound like a very medieval system, but image this scenario. If truffles could be mass produced and sold at Whole Foods, they’d be significantly cheaper and they would lose value.
In a world where we can have anything and everything we desire at all times, the rarity of white truffles is absolutely riveting. It makes the small number of truffles we have to actually deserve the name of “luxury gourmet.”
If you don’t have access to the real deal – the delicious white truffles – you might want to settle for the second-most valuable species, the black ones. Below is a list of black truffle by-products that you can get your hands on.
Getting fresh truffles can be pretty complicated; the long travel times often lead to stale mushrooms that you wouldn’t want to eat. Instead, you can buy these pressure dried black truffles that completely rehydrate in 30 seconds.
Once they’re back to their original form, they have the same taste, aroma and texture as fresh truffles. The slices rehydrate at a ratio of 9:1 to yield 1 lb. of “fresh” fungi. The pressure dried truffles are very cost effective compared to the air dried alternative.
This particular package was grown in the Himalayan Mountains, collected and wrapped to meet the US Food Manufacturing Standards for cleanliness and purity.
As one of the most renowned delicacies in the culinary world, truffles can make their way into your finest entrées in a very easy way. Italian black truffle salt – which is sea salt enhanced with black truffles – can add a special gourmet wonder to any of your dishes.
Collected from the Abruzzi region of Italy, the black truffle ingredient is beautifully balanced to add a salty, earthy, and particularly rich flavor. The fine size of the sea salt grain is perfect for sprinkling directly onto food and using as a finishing taste. Do not place in salt shakers; the truffle flakes are too large and will get stuck.
Meals to try on: Red Meat, Eggs, Risotto, Pasta, Potatoes
All of us who haven’t had the pleasure – and good fortune – to try fresh truffles, it’s most likely that we have used some artificial flavoring of truffle instead. Not anymore, thanks to this premium Italian black truffle paste. The black truffles used for this product were grown and collected from the Piedmont region in northern Italy.
The black truffle pate is a combination of porcini mushrooms, fresh black truffles, salt, and extra virgin olive oil. It is uniquely fragranced and has a delicate and sophisticated taste. You can try it even if you have gluten allergies since the product is completely gluten free.
Serving suggestion: The black truffle pate can be used as a spread over crusty Italian bread with seeds. It makes for a delicious and luxurious entrée at any fancy event.
Meals to try with: Canapes, Pasta, Fish, Cakes, Risottos, Lasagna, Pies, and Mixed Salads
Are you not satisfied with truffle salt or truffle pate? Your next option is to try the Black Truffle Carpaccio. The finest slices of black truffle have been cooked in extra virgin olive oil for the pleasure of your taste buds. This product combines the rich and powerful gourmet flavors with a luxurious presentation.
Thanks to the packaging, you can experience the real and delicious taste of truffle all year round. Slices of black truffle are a great alternative if you’re not particular to minced truffles. The flavor is also stronger and better preserved in the slice form than in the minced form.
It is the ultimate combination of gourmet food and theater concessions: Truffle mushrooms mixed with salted popcorn. The result? A brilliant, full-bodied, and earthy flavoring that you can’t say no to. The treat is great for a party or a get-together with your friends.
The black truffle popcorn is a true savory popcorn delicacy. The company imports the exotic truffle mushrooms from the south of France, and then combines them with sea salt to achieve the unique earthy flavoring. Even though truffles are usually paired with pasta or other Italian meals, it’s time you experience it on popcorn.
It’s as simple as this: white truffles are the king of fungi – rare to find and impossible to be lab-grown. Black truffles, on the other hand, can be replicated, but are secondary in terms of quality and flavor. However, they’re not to be dis-considered: They make for a delicious ingredient in any fancy entrée.