Truffles 101: The Ultimate Luxury Food
What are truffles?
Truffles are fruits of fungi, which grow under the big roots of host trees like chestnut, elm, oak, pine and willow. Often times, people mistake them as the chocolate-covered sweets. But the reality is, they are members of the mushroom family popularly known for turning simple dishes into delectable ones.
History and Myths
Now that you know what truffles really are, here are some legends that affected its use and cultivation.
- The Egyptians were the first people to have discovered and regarded truffles highly. Such high esteem rooted from the story of a sterile man who had a dozen and one children after eating a handful of them.
- Over time, the Greeks and the Romans upheld truffles for their healing and therapeutic benefits. Both believed that eating truffles can heal the deepest emotional upheavals of the soul because of these mushrooms’ exotic aroma and flavour.
- This belief led the priests in the Middle Ages to think that truffles are the devil’s creation and so they must be eradicated from the land. Truffles did not come to extinction though.
- It’s all thanks to King Louis XIV who enforced their re-cultivation and use in European dishes. From the mid-1800’s to the present tons of these mushrooms are harvested for consumption around the world. Up until this point, however, some people are still reluctant to eat truffles, thinking that they come from pigs – the excellent truffle hunters.
Why are they expensive?
Truffles are the diamonds of the gourmet world. Their taste is inimitable. They grow spontaneously under mild temperature, and only selected countries are able to delight in them. That being said, it is difficult, if not impossible, to cultivate truffles; hence, the pricey price tag. Black truffles are at $850/pound, while white truffles are at $ 2500/pound.
Truffles’ Two Best Kinds
Ranking among its popular kinds are the black and white truffles.
- Black Truffles grow in the Perigord region of Southwest France. Known as the cold-weather fungi, these truffles grow from September to October. They can be turned into oil or used as a grated ingredient. More so, they give soups and dishes like foie gras a distinct flavour.
- White Truffles, on the other hand, grow in the Piedmont region of Northern Italy. They grow during warmer months, and compared to truffles coming from other regions, white truffles are more aromatic – which accounts for its expensive price. Just like black truffles, they can be turned into oil or used as a grated ingredient, too. However, they’re best when used in risottos and sea food dishes.
Clearly, these mushrooms are not visible to the naked eye, and so trained dogs and female pigs are employed to sniff and harvest them. Nowadays, though, dogs are preferred to do the hunting because pigs – whose job is to sow – love to eat them outright. They’re perpetually drawn to them, as truffles contain chemicals similar to the sex hormones found in the male pig.
Given its high cost and strong taste, truffles are used quite sparingly in dishes. As I’ve mentioned above, they are usually grated over newly cooked food; and compared to the white ones, the black truffles are sweeter and syrupy – which is also why they make good truffle honey.
Another interesting bit: the first truffle vodka was made from black truffles. Known as the Black Moth Vodka, it’s got natural vodka as its main ingredient and infused with black Perigord for flavor. This isn’t exclusively found in cocktail parties, though. Chefs also use truffle vodka to add flavour to a variety of dishes.
Now, ever wondered what are truffles like when eaten raw? They taste rather woody. In restaurants, they’re simply thoroughly cleaned before served to the customers. That may come off as nasty to some, but the woody taste of truffles actually complements the taste of earthy red wines. The loads of anti-oxidants and fiber you will get from eating them is all worth the money you need to pay for a single serving.
I used to be one of those folks whose mental image for truffles is that bite-sized chocolate delight. Then again, who knew we can delight just as much in something that’s as weird yet luxurious as the real truffle? I don’t know about you, but it’s far too interesting to pass up. No ganache filling, I know, but it’s guaranteed to make one feel like royalty.