Before you use truffles in cooking let’s review exactly what they are…
Truffles are a type of fungi that grow underground near the roots of trees. They are highly sought after for their unique flavor and are used in a variety of Italian dishes. While they can be pricey, a little goes a long way, and they can be a great way to add a touch of decadence to your meal.
If you’re not familiar with using truffles in cooking, I would suggest a slow introduction at the family dinner table. First, perhaps just try truffle oil or truffle salt to see if you even like the strong flavor. These cost only about $15-20 or so, and are easily ordered on Amazon. It’s not the same as tasting fresh truffles, but it’s close enough to give you an idea for a nominal price.
If this taste appeals to you—people either hate it or LOVE it—then try a small 1.0-1.5 oz fresh truffle imported from Italy. This will go for about $25-40, still not too bad. BUT, just know that you will have to use it all within a few days of receiving it, or it will quickly lose its precious flavor. Therefore it’s best to find a supplier who can ship it to you next day/overnight.
Then if you still want MORE, well, now you’re in trouble, because you’re going to have an expensive habit. But it’s one of those truly epicurean indulgences that is SO worth it!
Buying Truffles For Cooking
If you’re lucky enough to have a local supplier of fresh truffles, here’s what to look for:
To be considered fresh, the truffle must be firm, because if it is squishy, it may already be on the way to becoming rotten. Not rock hard, but not too soft, either. And our dear underground mushroom must be fully intact. If it seems to be falling apart, it will deteriorate more quickly.
Another important factor is the degree of cleanliness. An excessive amount of soil residue on the surface could mask important imperfections and defects that lie beneath.
You should also know the types of truffles. There are several, but it is useful to distinguish the main ones. In order of price (from highest to lowest), the best known truffles are the prized white truffle or white trifola (Tuber magnatum pico), the black winter truffle (Tuber melanosporum) and the black summer truffle (Tuber aestivum).
OK, so let’s quickly review the tips for buying truffles for cooking. In sum:
1. When purchasing truffles, look for ones that are firm and have a strong aroma. Avoid any that are soft or have bruised spots.
2. Fresh truffles should be used within a few days of purchase. If you can’t use them right away, you may store them in the fridge in a paper bag until you’re ready. Store-bought truffles may last a bit longer, but you should set a reminder on your calendar to use them within a week or two.
3. If you’re storing your truffles in the fridge, the end goal is to keep them dry. If the truffles feel at all moist to the touch, they’ve been stored for too long and will have lost much of their flavor.
The truffle goes perfectly with dishes with a delicate flavor such as poached or fried eggs, fettuccine, risotto, and vegetable dishes such as onions. They can also be made into a paste and spread on top of fresh bread, as suggested in the recipe at the bottom of this article. For the rest of this article, we’ll be referring to the more accessible and affordable black truffle.
The price of the black truffle, like that of all other truffles, varies continuously, even during the same season. This all depends on many factors, including the quantity collected in a given period, and the size and quality of the specimens (larger pieces have, for the same weight, a higher price, as do specimens without defects).
The Black Truffle will be the star of any dinner table, as it is extremely versatile; perfect raw and even better when added to a recipe.
In fact, unlike the white one, the black truffle holds up very well when cooked, where it best releases characteristic aromas and flavors, especially in creaming.
How To Use Black Truffles In Cooking
As mentioned, black truffles are perfect for preparing risottos, pasta sauces, sauces to be enjoyed on hot toasted bread. It is also ideal when cut into slices and cooked with roasts, or used raw, in flakes, to flavor hot soups, polenta, purées, poached eggs, to which it gives a unique taste and aroma.
More Tips for Using Black Truffles in Cooking:
- If you’re interested in trying out truffles, start with a small amount and add more to taste.
- If you are using fresh truffles, brush them lightly with a soft brush to remove any dirt. If you are using dried or frozen truffles, there is no need to brush them.
- When working with truffles, be sure to keep them refrigerated until you are ready to use them.
- When adding black truffles to a dish, it is best to slice them or dice them just before use, and not any sooner than necessary.
Where do truffles come from?
Truffles are “hypogean” mushrooms, that is, they develop underground, in symbiosis with some particular species of plants, in a mutual exchange relationship between them and the roots of the latter. The truffle absorbs nutrients from the plant, and the plant obtains mineral salts essential for its growth.
However, truffles are not found in all types of soil, and they do not grow in symbiosis with all plants: each type of truffle prefers a specific type of plant and a specific type of soil. If we add to all this the fact that these mushrooms are born and develop underground, more or less deeply, finding out where they are, especially if you are not an expert on the subject, becomes quite difficult.
In fact, to become a “truffle hunter,” you need a lot of hands-on experience. You also must make use of the help of man’s best friend, the truffle dog, which with its highly-developed sense of smell. Once well-trained, the truffle hunter’s dog becomes indispensable for identifying where the truffles are hiding with incredible precision.
The necessary qualities of a truffle hunting dog are intrinsic characteristics in the Lagotto Romagnolo breed. According to classical syllogism, we could say that man’s best friend is the dog that collaborates with him, and the characteristics of the Lagotto Romagnolo are those of being the very definition of a working dog.
FAQ Which type of tree roots can develop truffles?
Among the plants favored by truffles, we mainly find:
Each of these develops a symbiosis with certain types of truffle, and it is up to the expert truffle hunter, and his canine companion, to find them.
Recipes that Use Truffles in Cooking
Here is a super simple recipe if you’ve never really tried truffles, but are curious about their flavor:
BLACK TRUFFLE SAUCE RECIPE
- Truffle – 5 or 6 oz.
- Salted Anchovies – 2
- Butter – 2 tbsp
- Half lemon
- Garlic – 1 clove
- Homemade bread – 8 slices
- Extra virgin olive oil – 2 tbsp
Wash the anchovies and then chop them; clean and scrape the truffle, slice it thinly. In a saucepan on the heat, combine butter and oil, when the former has melted, add the garlic and let it brown.
When the garlic is golden, remove it and let it cool down, then add the anchovies and the truffle, mixing everything with a wooden spoon until you get a uniform cream. Season this with salt and lemon juice, then serve with the toasted slices of bread.
For more truffle recipes, check out the Eataly Online Magazine
And to hear my conversation with my friend in Italy, listen to the podcast The Fatal Charm of Italy.