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Known around the world as the "Black Diamond", "White Diamond", "Black Pearl", "Fragrant Nugget" and many other names reflecting our adoration of truffles; truffle mushrooms are truly one of nature's miracles.
Premium truffles are found mostly in France, Spain and Italy. Secondary markets include China, Turkey, Yugoslavia, Northern Africa, and the United States. Preferring a warm climate, free of frost and sheltered from summer storms, truffles develop in the root system of certain trees, primarily oaks and hazelnut trees, and occasionally certain pines, willows, chestnuts, beech, red alder and poplars.
Truffles grow in random locations as much as one foot below ground in the root system of the host trees and therefore must be discovered by the trained nose of a pig or dog. Dogs are more commonly used for truffle hunting today, as they can be more easily trained to simply find the truffles and not eat them.
The most well known and highly prized of the seventy varieties of truffles are the white truffle (Tuber magnatum Pico) often called Piemont or Alba truffle, and the winter black truffle (Tuber melanosporum) often referred to as Perigord Truffle. Summer truffles (Tuber aestivum) are also very popular and delicious; however they are not as aromatic as winter white and black truffles and should be much less expensive. Burgundy truffles are more flavorful and aromatic than summer truffles, but still do not compare to the intense aroma and divine earthy flavor of black Perigord Truffles, or White Alba Truffles.
The season for fresh white truffles is generally October through the end of December. Fresh black winter truffles are usually available from early December through March; summer truffles, May through August and Burgundy truffles September through November.
All fresh truffles should be firm to the touch and never spongy. The shape of a truffle is generally round; however, each truffle's shape is unique and its size can vary from the size of a marble to that of a tennis ball or even a grapefruit.
Black truffles should be black or dark brown on the exterior and black or charcoal marbled with white veins on the interior. The blackness of the interior is one of the factors that indicates a black truffle is fully mature. The exterior resembles the skin of a dog's nose. The intense fragrance and earthy taste is difficult to describe—it really must be experienced! The average size of a winter black truffle is one to two ounces, about the size of a golf ball. The Perigord region in France is the most well known source of black truffles. This variety is frequently referred to as Perigord truffles, even if they come from another area.
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White truffles, usually found in Italy, are creamy white to tan colored, sometimes with a reddish tone, and have a heavenly aroma that exceeds even that of the black Perigord truffle. Much more rare than black truffles, and impossible to cultivate, white truffles are the most expensive of all the tuber-like fungi. Katherine Alford, author of Caviar, Truffles and Foie Gras, stated in her informative cookbook, "A top quality freshly dug white truffle will perfume an entire room, can be smelled on the street through a closed window, and is an extraordinary dining experience".
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When exposed to air, the aroma of fresh truffles fills the room with heavenly fragrance. Because the fragrance will be lost with extended exposure to open air, truffles should be wrapped carefully in a paper towel and kept in an air-tight container or jar. It is very important to keep truffles dry; therefore it is a good idea to change the paper towel daily. All truffles hate dampness, and will develop mold if moisture is present. If mold develops, simply shave the affected area.
Both summer and winter black truffles will generally last up to ten days if stored properly in a cool, dry place. White truffles should be consumed within five to seven days of harvesting. Use white truffles within one to three days from the time they are received. Most people keep fresh truffles in the refrigerator. It is generally best to consume fresh truffles as soon as possible because the flavor and aroma will fade with every day they are stored.
When ready to prepare the truffles, first brush them with a small moist brush until all earth or gravel is removed. Use the point of a small knife to remove anything lodged in the crevices of the mushroom. Some preparations specify to peel off the outer layer of rind. These shavings may be used for another purpose such as soaking them in olive oil to be used as the base of a dressing or sauce.
In most cases the truffles should be sliced paper thin or minced. Any leftover pieces may be mixed with unsalted butter, wrapped tightly, and frozen. Frozen, the butter will last for months. If the shavings or leftover pieces are mixed with oil, use the truffle infused oil within a day or two.
Winter black truffles are best when cooked, because the flavor of the truffles intensifies with heat. Small shavings or strips can be added to sauces and other savory dishes. Thin slices of raw black truffles can be placed under the skin of uncooked fowl, such as duck or pheasant, or can be wrapped around firm textured hearty fish such as monkfish. Black truffles pair well with many other meats, including beef, pork and game meats such as venison, boar and elk. Bacon and pancetta are often used in conjunction with black truffles, as are cheeses such as chevre, kasseri, Selles-Sur-Cher, or aged Gouda. Fresh black truffles or black truffle juice is wonderful in sauces made with hearty wine or brandy. And for the ultimate pairing, layer black truffle slices in a foie gras terrine.
White truffles are best served raw because the intense flavor and fragrance is lost during the cooking process. Shave raw white truffles on pasta, risotto, potatoes, eggs, sauces, or with poultry or other white meats such as rabbit or veal. White truffles also pair well with hard Italian cheeses, prosciutto and salami, and of course, foie gras.
Summer truffles should be served in generous portions because they are much more mild than winter black truffles and are much more affordable. Use summer truffles with salads, with eggs, or with juicy red meats, letting them soak up the juices from the meat. Summer truffles should be served raw or just slightly warmed.
Burgundy truffles can be served raw or cooked. These lesser-known truffles are somewhere between a summer black truffle and a winter black truffle, with a delicate but distinctive hazelnut flavor. Slice Burgundy truffles over beef carpaccio, fall soups, or add to eggs, pasta or other mild bases, just as you would with the other varieties of truffles.
Black truffles may be preserved by flash freezing, though this technique is less successful for white truffles. Winter black truffles are also available in jars whole, sliced, or in pieces. This is a more affordable solution, though the preserved truffles do not begin to compare with the fresh, just harvested product. The advantages of preserved truffles are the availability off-season, and its long shelf life of three to four years. Once opened, the preserved truffles should be eaten within a week or frozen.
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Using commercial truffle oils and prepared truffle butter is a good way to enjoy the flavor and aroma of both white and black truffles without the expense of purchasing fresh truffles. There are many brands of truffle oil, each with their unique formula. Some oils are flavored with natural or chemical flavoring that duplicates the flavor and aroma of truffles, where other manufacturers produce real truffle oil made with extra virgin olive oil and real truffles.
Truffle oil and truffle butter can generally be used interchangeably and have a wide variety of applications. Both products are delicious on mashed potatoes, pasta, vegetables, with meat or seafood, and even on popcorn. See our blog for for a list of uses for truffle oil, instructions on how to use truffle oil, where to buy truffle oil, and our article about black vs white truffle oil.
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Truffle juice is another product exhibiting the unique earthy truffle flavor that so many enjoy. Truffle juice is made from the water used to preserve black truffles and is wonderful in sauces.
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Truffle salt offers a way to enjoy the unique flavor of truffles without adding extra fat or oil to your preparation. Used primarily as a finishing salt (add to dishes as a last touch), truffle salt is heavenly with almost anything.
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