A Beginner’s Guide to Truffles
If you’re looking to elevate your cooking skills, you may want to add truffles into your repertoire. Truffles look unassuming and plain, but they give every dish an unforgettable savory flavor. Before you incorporate truffles into your favorite dishes, learn the basics about truffles.
What is a truffle? Buried treasure!
The truffles found in chocolate treat confectionery boxes are not the same truffles used in cooking. Rather, cooking truffles are fungi and part of the mushroom family. However, truffles are mushrooms like no other. Instead of being located above ground like most mushrooms, truffles grow underground near trees. And, more importantly, truffles don’t taste like traditional mushrooms.
A fresh truffle has a strong, distinct, and earthy scent. As they mature, their spores exude aromatic compounds that attract foraging animals. These animals dig up the underground truffles and eventually spread the spores. It’s this potent aroma that appeals to both foraging animals and culinary chefs.
Truffles depend on being consumed by animals to reproduce, therefore its aroma is like a magnet for animals. These underground balls of gold are enticing because their scent contains chemicals similar to that of reproductive pheromones! Because of its unique smell, truffles are typically found using truffle-hunting dogs or pigs to pick up the scent and locate the buried gourmet treasure.
Where are truffles grown?
Although Europe has a reputation for producing truffles, these delicacies are found and grown throughout the world. In fact, truffles were first noted in neo-Sumerian inscriptions from the 20th century BC. The ancient Greeks and Romans have also been known to consume truffles. These days, truffles are primarily cultivated and found in Europe, the Middle East, and the Pacific Northwest. Because shipment and storage can greatly reduce a truffle’s scent, it’s best to purchase from a reputable seller closer to you who utilized an effective storage or preservation technique. (01)
What do truffles look and taste like?
Most culinary truffles come in two categories, white truffles and black truffles. White truffles resemble a small rough-skinned potato on the outside. When sliced, however, the truffles are marbled in coloring. Black truffles have a darker and more granular texture than white truffles on the outside, but appear almost alike when sliced.
White truffles are less common than black truffles. These truffles have a stronger flavor and scent than black truffles and are typically eaten uncooked. Black truffles have a less robust flavor, but can be sauteed to make their flavor bolder.
It’s not easy to describe the flavor of a truffle, though most foodies will describe the flavor as “earthy.” Depending on the type and freshness of the truffle, some individuals will say the flavor is cheesy, savory, or garlicky.
Why are truffles costlier than other foods?
Truffles are valuable, for good reason. For many people, the cost of a truffle might be a head scratcher. After all, these fungi look unassuming and basic, appearing more like a root than a cute button mushroom. However, truffles are costlier than other foods because they are challenging to grow and harvest. (02)
Farming truffles takes an average of three to four years for one yield, and requires a delicate balance between the weather, trees, and soil. Conversely, foraging for truffles isn’t any easier than farming them. These culinary delights are difficult to find in the wild – even more so now that climate change, high demand, and habitat loss has created a shortage. A person foraging for truffles may put in hours – even days– of work without any success. (02)
Truffle Buyer Beware
Because truffles are in such high demand, finding good-quality truffles for a fair price can be tricky. Also, not all truffles are the same. People new to purchasing truffles can be duped into mistakenly purchasing the wrong kind of truffle. A hundred species of truffles exist and many of them look alike. Unfortunately, less than a dozen of those have any culinary value. The rest are truffles, but they lack the scent and flavor intensity that culinary truffles possess. (03)
What’s more, truffles lose their aroma and flavor over time through off-gassing during storage and transport. Attempts to bury truffles in mediums such as salt, rice, or flour during transport often fall short. As a result, these truffles lack flavor and aroma when finally sold at the market. Even more troubling, some companies add chemical additives to their storage medium to retain a truffle aroma. (03)
Truffle Oils, Salts, and Butters
Chemicals are also utilized in many truffle-infused oils, salts, and butters to strengthen the “truffle flavoring.” Rather than using natural truffle flavors, these products are flavored with chemicals, typically the following: dimethyl sulfide, 2-methylbutanal, or molecule bis(methylthio)methane. Although there may be truffles in the product, the flavor and scent come from added synthetic chemicals instead. (03)
Using Truffles in Your Dishes
Truffles aren’t inexpensive, but a little goes a long way. The truffle should never be the dominant part of the dish, but the flavoring. In restaurants, freshly shaved truffles are usually the way to go. The truffle is shaved onto the dish in delicate tendrils or thin slices for flavoring, rather than served as the main dish. You can also go this route, by lightly shaving truffle pieces onto your cooked pizza or pasta.
Cooking with truffles is fairly cut and dry. For example, black truffles are excellent when paired with simple scrambled eggs. Sauteeing fine slivers of black truffle in butter before adding the egg takes scrambled eggs up a notch!
Risotto is also ideal for cooking with truffles. Adding small cuts of black truffles to risotto stock infuses the dish with a savory flavor. Sauces, gravies, soups, and dips also benefit from a few shavings of Black Truffle. Use a cheese grater, mandolin, or vegetable peeler to shave off the right amount.
Fresh Frozen Truffles
Transporting and storing truffles in bins of rice is an antiquated way to keep them fresh. Northwest Wild Foods ships our black truffles frozen to prevent the loss of precious flavor. Our black truffles are equal to European truffles in flavor and shipped faster, preserving maximum flavor for your kitchen. With no added chemical flavoring, our black truffles are frozen fresh for full natural flavor. Enjoy a little bit of black gold and treat yourself to some decadence with our fresh frozen black truffles shipped to your home.