Truffle. A true love it or hate it delicacy, with its pungent flavour and heady scent, the truffle is not a flavour which takes a back seat in any dish and can easily overwhelm the palate if overdone. The truffle is an edible fungus belonging to the mushroom family, but it’s not a mushroom like any other; many describe the taste as earthy, gamey even. Those on the other side of the fence might describe it as ‘musky’ or ‘funky’. Whatever the taste, there’s no denying for those who love it, it’s a unique, rich and luxurious ingredient that when found on a menu is extremely difficult to pass up the opportunity to taste once more.
What is so special about truffles?
Pound for pound, truffle is one of the most expensive foods you can buy. The reason behind such high costs is the scarcity of the produce, truffles are seasonal, extremely difficult to grow and take many years to cultivate. They also have a short shelf life.
Truffles require a very specific climate to grow and require lots of oak trees, that’s why they’re often found in woodland. Even when all the conditions are perfect for truffles to grow, they are still not guaranteed. Hunting them can be labour-intensive as each truffle must be dug up by hand. When setting up a truffle orchard, it could take up to 6 years before you get a truffle harvest – a business not for the faint-hearted.
“My two favorite foods are potatoes and truffles. They are diametrically opposed, but together they are for me one of the best combinations possible. For example, truffle and potato salad, truffle with mashed potatoes and poultry in half mourning.” – Patrick Ogheard, EHL.
So, let’s take a look at the appetite of the truffle market and why this labour intensive process is so worthwhile.
Looking at consumer interest over time in this Google Trends Report, there is a clear and steady increase in online searches for ‘Truffle’ since 2004. What’s also interesting is that there is a spike every year around the festive season, demonstrating that this opulent produce is associated with celebrations, luxury and festivities.
Truffles are worth big money: The global market is expected to grow to over $6 billion within about ten years. The truffle phenomena has swept the globe, leading to an increased demand for these rare delicacies. In turn creating the demand for truffle-centric food businesses, those selling truffle-infused condiments, salts & oils, and restaurants – from the high-end to burger joints. Today, 70% of the world’s truffles are cultivated in order to meet the appetite for them globally.
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Are truffles under threat by climate change?
As with all aspects of the natural world under threat from the impacts of climate change, truffles are no exception. Through the loss of woodlands and general shifts in conditions due to climate change, the number of wild truffles has decreased significantly. Since the 19th century, production in France has fallen from over 1,000 tonnes a season to just 30 tonnes. Truffle lovers will be saddened to know that this could spell the disappearance of truffles altogether in the future in spite of the desire to cultivate them.
The price of fresh truffles depends on the supply and demand at any given moment, the species of truffle and the quality of the product. It also depends whether the buyer is purchasing at retail price or wholesale i.e. for a restaurant. White truffles grown in northern Italy are the most expensive of all and their fragrance is deeper.
Acqualagna, in the northern part of Le Marche, Italy, hosts an annual truffle festival where truffles and fresh truffle products are sold in the market. The whole town fills with the glorious scent of truffles. Well worth a visit.
Learn more about the differences between white and black truffles in this article by one of EHL’s Senior Lecturer Practical Arts, Christophe Laurent.
Discover what happened when a group of EHL students from the SSTH Hotel Management course who are majoring in Culinary Arts went on a truffle hunt together with a truffle company in Perugia, Italy.
Cheaper ways to experience truffle: truffle oils
What is truffle oil ?
An affordable way to enjoy truffles – particularly white truffle – is in oil. Check the label to ensure it is not artificially flavored but made with real truffle. A splash here and there in your cooking goes a long way with such a heady scented oil, so even if your budget will only buy you a tiny bottle for your larder, it is well worth the investment as it will last. Most commonly added to pasta and risotto dishes, it can also be used to add an additional depth to your steak-frites, a touch of luxury to your morning eggs, or even pimp a cheese toastie!
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Patrick Ogheard’s guide to truffles
The 4 main types of truffle by EHL’s Senior Lecturer of Culinary Arts:
1. Tuber melanosporum
- I consider this to be the best black truffle.
- It’s from southwest France, also known as ‘Truffle de Périgorde’.
- Season: end Nov to mid-March.
- It’s best used raw or cooked and fresh.
- Use garlic as an exhauster of the truffle’s flavor. Rub garlic on the mandolin slicer when using it for slicing truffles.
- The truffle can be kept in the fridge for up to 10 days but not hermetically sealed because truffles releases gas. Place in a bowl, cover it with uncooked rice (for risotto) and/ or immersed in grapeseed oil. You can use the rice later – which will have absorbed the flavor of the truffle. The same applies if you place eggs in a bowl with truffles – when you cook the eggs later it will have absorbed the truffle flavor through their porous shell.
- You can also store this type in the freezer or sterilized. But not hermetically sealed because truffles releases gas.
- You can grow this truffle like a potato underground next to certain trees (chestnut, oak).
- To find these truffles, you need either a dog, pigs, or flies.
2. Tuber magnatum
- This is a white truffle.
- For me, it’s the best truffle in the world. And the most expensive.
- This one you cannot grow. It needs good sniffer dogs to find.
- Grows underground mostly in the Piedmont region of northern Italy and in parts of Greece.
- Season: Oct to mid-Jan.
- Keep in fridge, not in a closed container, and for a maximum of one week. Never freeze this truffle.
- Use only raw and fresh.
- Good with white meat, seafoods, rice and potatoes.
3. Tuber aestivum
- Also known as “summer truffle”.
- It’s cheap and doesn’t have a lot of flavor. Many restaurants use it for the name “truffle”.
- It is very common during the summer season. You can find it everywhere, in different types of restaurants. You can slice it on top of salads, and different cold dishes.
- Use it raw, cool and cold
- Season: May to Aug.
- Do not freeze.
4. Tuber Uncinatum
- Also known as “Burgundy Truffle”.
- Its characteristics are a combination of the Tuber Aestivum because it is cheaper than the Melanosporum, but it has less flavor than the “truffe du Perigord”
- Season: Sept to Nov.
- Grows in shady places.
- Preferably used cooked, but you can also use it raw.