When it comes to esteemed foods, few hold a candle to truffles. The subterranean fungi are held in high regard, with an equally high price tag, as a prized ingredient among 5-star restaurants and culinary experts. But what’s the big deal? They’re just mushrooms after all.
Truffles have earned their reputation for their limited availability and unique flavor profile. There is nothing quite like truffles, whose exact taste is difficult to concisely describe or compare. The flavor is most commonly described as earthy and nutty, with some varieties having an almost garlicky resemblance. Regardless of the exact flavor, most agree that truffles are delicious with their aroma-heavy taste.
1. What are truffles?
Truffles (not the chocolates of the same name) are subterranean fungi and while technically they’re a mushroom, there’s at least one key difference—truffles don’t grow above-ground like a normal mushroom. Despite this difference, both truffles and mushrooms are classified as fruit-bearing fungi both composed of a stem (fungus) and a body (which carries spores).
2. Where are truffles found?
Truffles are mostly concentrated in Spain, France, and Italy where they can be found growing naturally in the countryside near the roots of broad-leaved trees such as oak and hazelnut. While they are found naturally in the highest quantity in Europe, truffles can also be found in Australia and in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States in smaller concentrations.
In order to locate the truffles buried underground, truffle hunters use dogs or pigs that are specially trained to seek out their scent. This process of searching within limited growing regions, along with the difficulty of farming, has aided in maintaining the scarcity of the fungi.
Attempts to commercially grow truffles have largely been unsuccessful as their natural growing conditions have proven to be extremely difficult to replicate. The process for growing truffles involves injecting spores into oak or hazelnut seedlings that are placed a fair distance apart and can take an average of 3-4 years to develop. Whether or not truffles grow largely depends on the climate and soil conditions, and even if they do manage to grow, farmers still require the aid of trained animals to find them.
3. What kinds of truffles are there?
There are two types of truffles, white truffles, and black truffles, with white truffles being the rarer of the two. Black truffles typically sell for around $800 per pound and have a harvesting season between September and March. White truffles, on the other hand, can go for several thousand dollars per pound and have a more limited harvest between October and December. Once harvested, the truffles have an extremely short shelf-life as the flavor quickly fades after only 4-5 days.
4. How do you cook with truffles?
Light cooking can enhance the flavor of black varieties of truffles; however, the more delicate white truffles are best eaten raw to preserve their stronger and more complex flavor. Lightly shaved pieces of white truffle are a delicious topping to savory dishes, while black truffle can be infused with cheese to add a nutty, earthy taste.
5. Where can you try truffles?
Truffles are slowly becoming more widely used in dishes, with the inclusion of truffle nachos, truffle fries, and truffle macaroni and cheese making their way onto many Bay Area restaurant’s menus at more accessible price points.
Another great alternative to satisfy a truffle craving is to use a product infused with truffle. White Truffle Olive Oil, Black Truffle Sea Salt, and truffle-infused hot sauces are great for truffle lovers and first-time truffle-connoisseurs alike. Truffle-infused products taste great over salads, pasta, risotto, soups, and more.
Over-foraging, high global demand, and environmental factors all play a role in the scarcity of truffles. Until commercial farming becomes a viable option, you can expect truffles’ rarity to remain. As truffles continue to gain popularity, you can look forward to creative methods of integrating truffles sparingly and the adoption of more truffle-featured menu items at your favorite shops and restaurants.
Looking for something to spice up your favorite recipes? The Olive Bar is located in Downtown Campbell, CA, and carries a wide selection of olive oils, vinegar, hot sauces, jams, and more! Visit our online shop or stop by our store in person for free tastings!