The Essential Guide to Truffles
If you’re a cooking enthusiast, home chef, or are simply just curious about truffles when you see them on a restaurant’s menu, we’ve got all of the information you need.
Most people are pretty clueless when it comes to truffles. If you ask someone what they know about truffles, the first thing they mention is often how expensive they are. One pound of black truffles can retail for around $1000-$2000, but market rates are expected to increase in the near future. While truffles being expensive is certainly a relevant detail, there are a lot more exciting and interesting things to learn about these wonderful, tasty fungi
Truffles have an extremely pungent smell that attracts animals, especially pigs. Those who grow or hunt for truffles use pigs to locate and extract the truffles from the dirt. Even more peculiar is that female pigs are typically used to hunt for truffles, as the small fungi emit natural sex hormones similar to those emitted by male pigs.
Goats and dogs can also be great at sniffing truffles out as well. While some farms still use animals to harvest truffles, some have banned the practice, as their paws and hooves can damage the roots underground.
At Foraged, we believe that it’s important for chefs and foodies to have a thorough understanding of specialty ingredients like truffles. So now that you know exactly how truffles are found, it’s time that we explore the other facts surrounding these delicious, gourmet fungi.
Types of Truffles
Truffles are the “fruiting bodies” of the subterranean ascomycete fungus. There are several different types of truffles, but the most common ones that people use when cooking include: the black truffle, the winter truffle, the summer truffle, and the burgundy truffle.
The black truffle, otherwise known as the Périgord truffle, is named after a region in France where they are harvested in the fall and winter months. Many people refer to these truffles as “black diamonds” as they can be incredibly expensive. However, they are so flavorful and pungent that your dishes won’t require a large amount. Like other truffles, black truffles grow under the soil, particularly under certain tree species like oak, chestnut, beech, and hazelnut.
The winter truffle has a very earthy taste and aroma, often mimicking the taste of chocolate. Winter truffles are lighter in color and feature a dark inside with white veins running through its flesh. These truffles grow in the winter, hence its name, in temperate climates like regions in Italy.
Opposite of the winter truffle is the summer truffle, which are usually harvested between the months of May to August. The summer truffle (genus: tuber) is a pale, hazel color and has a more mild taste than black or winter truffles. This is great for those who like to cook with truffles but fear that the taste will overpower other flavors in the dish.
The burgundy truffle features a unique, marbled pattern that is exposed once it is sliced. These truffles have an earthy, nutty smell and their mild taste is also slightly nutty with hints of mushrooms and garlic. This type of truffle is botanically classified as Tuber uncinatum and is commonly found throughout Europe. Like black truffles, burgundy truffles are high in vitamin C and are a good source of fiber, which means that you should feel perfectly healthy when feasting on a giant bowl of pasta covered in truffle shavings.
If you don’t have the budget to purchase an entire truffle, there’s an endless amount of truffle-based products that’ll give your dishes the desired flavor. Many of these can be found on our website, along with a variety of whole truffles. Home cooks and foodies can find oils, sauces, salts, and even butters that contain truffles.
These types of products can be used in pastas, potato dishes, pizzas, risotto, and more – the are truly endless. We are huge fans of drizzling truffle oil over warm popcorn or adding it to creamy macaroni and cheese dishes. Believe it or not, truffle oil can elevate a dish that is already beyond rich.
For those who are new to cooking with truffles or truffle products, using an oil or a salt is a simple and affordable place to start. Truffle oil can be used as a finishing oil on french fries, added to a vinaigrette, or drizzled over pasta and pizza. It will give your cooking that delicious, earthy taste without hurting your wallet. Like truffle oil, truffle salts can be lightly shaken over a meal before serving.
Chefs who prefer to cook gourmet dishes and meals should most definitely consider purchasing whole truffles, using shavings to flavor their food.
Is a truffle a mushroom?
Similar to mushrooms, truffles are considered fungi. However, they aren’t exactly considered mushrooms. When preparing mushrooms, you typically cut them into large chunks and pan-fry them in butter or oil. This is something that you would absolutely not do with truffles. While mushrooms grow above the ground, truffles grow underneath the ground and have to be hunted by pigs, goats, or dogs. Mushrooms can easily be cut at the root when harvested, and only take three to four weeks to grow, whereas truffles take much longer.
Most mushrooms are more affordable to purchase than truffles, which makes them a great addition to stir fries, pasta dishes, sauces, and casseroles.
What does truffle taste like?
The taste of truffles is truly one-of-a-kind. After trying truffles only once, your eyes will surely wander to menu options that mention truffles every time you visit a restaurant in the future. While the taste of truffles differs depending on the variety, the general flavor profile is earthy, nutty, musky, and a little meaty. Truffles’ flavor notes are extremely complex, and you cannot really get a sense of the flavor until you try it for yourself.
Are truffles found in the US?
Some truffles can be found in the United States, but most of them are grown in Europe, particularly in Italy, France, and Spain. Most truffle farms in the U.S. are located in California, Oregon, North Carolina, Idaho, Virginia, and Washington. These states tend to have more temperate climates, which is what truffles need in order to grow. Truffles are usually grown in small acreages or on hobby farms that specialize in growing gourmet ingredients.
Black Perigord truffles and Burgundy truffles are the most common varieties produced in the United States.
Why are truffles so hard to grow?
Unless you live in France, Spain, or Italy, truffles can be extremely hard to grow, as it is hard to replicate the ideal temperature and soil conditions. Truffles are notoriously expensive because they are so difficult to produce. When growing, the truffle forms a symbiotic relationship with the tree that it is growing under. Truffles get the necessary sugars from the tree’s roots and in return, they provide the tree with valuable nutrients absorbed from the surrounding soil.
Truffles also take a very long time to grow. From the moment they are planted, truffles typically take five years until they are ready for harvest. While some grow quickly and are ready after three years, other truffles may take up to 10 years to grow to their full potential.
Some people can get lucky and find truffles in the wild. However, be careful when consuming these, as they could end up being a (magical) form of mushroom instead. If you do happen to stumble upon some truffles in your garden, consider cooking with a small amount and then chunking the rest into pieces for replanting. This way, there’s a chance more truffles will grow and be ready for harvest within the next three to five years.
The future of the truffle industry
While dining at fancy restaurants and cooking at home has become a hobby for many people, the demand for truffles is most certainly skyrocketing. Unfortunately, the future of the truffle industry is looking particularly bleak due to climate change. Because of global warming, temperatures are increasing and soil is becoming drier, which is particularly bad for truffles as they require damp and soft soil to thrive. This is yet another reason why people, businesses, and countries around the world need to prioritize reducing their carbon footprint.
The increasingly dry weather conditions occurring in Europe in recent years pose a threat to the worldwide truffle industry, and some experts have even predicted that truffles could go extinct within the next century. This means that right now is the time to enjoy truffles and truffle products, as the prices will only increase and supply becomes more scarce.