What are Preserved Truffles?

Brief Guide to delicious Preserved Truffle Products!

As is the case with most foods, you can’t beat fresh. However, fresh truffles require careful planning because they aren’t cheap and you’ll only get a window of a few days to consume them. They’re also seasonal, so you might only be able to enjoy your favourite truffle for 2 or 3 months a year.

If you prefer to take things a little easier, but still crave the truffle experience, then preserved truffles are definitely the way forward.  With shelf-lives extending up to 4 years, you can enjoy them all year round in stress-free bliss!

Preserved truffles can also be a relatively inexpensive way of savouring truffles perhaps for the first time and the sheer range of products available means they are a great way of experimenting with different dishes.

They won’t match fresh truffles, but if prepared correctly and alongside other quality ingredients they can be absolutely exquisite.

How are preserved truffles prepared?

The majority of unsold fresh truffles (yes, some actually do go unsold – usually small, irregular shaped or cut pieces) are rushed off to small workshops to be transformed into a myriad of delightful concoctions. They may be left whole, chopped up, sliced, blended or infused. If carried out correctly, the transformation process doesn’t alter the innate corporeal flavours of the truffle.

What type of preserved truffle products are there?

Preserved truffles can be broadly divided into 3 groups:

1. Real preserved truffles

All the classic white and black Italian truffles can be found in preserved form. They normally rest in their own juice with a little salt. They can also be found in carpaccio form or ready sliced.

2. Products which deliver the magical truffle flavours to other dishes

These include truffle oils, truffle butter, truffle juice, creams and sauces. Very popular with restaurant chefs all around Italy.

3. Ready to use creations

These are classic products with truffles added during their preparation and can be consumed as they are. This range includes literally hundreds of items, e.g. honeys, bruschetta, pestos, dry pasta, pasta sauces, cheese, patés, chocolates, biscuits, cakes, salt, polenta….

Watch out for the Truffle Scams!

Unfortunately, as with most desirable products, there are certain unscrupulous companies who try to swindle their way onto our tables. Some use chemical flavourings instead of truffles and others cheaper, far  inferior truffles from Asia labelled as Italian. Truffle oils* in particular have gained a poor reputation for their artificial flavour. Our advice is to buy from trusted suppliers/producers.

*A lot of confusion surrounds truffle oils. The ones to avoid (or at least be aware of) are oils with chemical flavourings. However even the best truffle oils often contain natural truffle flavouring. This is because the lovely truffle fragrance tends to diminish relatively quickly in oils and the flavouring is used simply to keep it fresh and vibrant for as long as possible. The taste they confer to dishes is entirely down to the real truffle infusion which remains much more stable over time.

Award Winning Truffle Pesto

We have one of the largest ranges of preserved truffles in the UK including a number of award winning products – Please come in and have a look around.

Balsamic Vinegar and Truffle Glaze

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Guide to Italian Truffles

What are Truffles?

“Truffles, the Mozart of mushrooms.”

Gioacchino Rossini, Italian Composer(1792 – 1868)

Exotic, seductive, precious and hugely desirable. The appeal of truffles is undeniable. These mysterious mushrooms are as elusive as they are captivating and their timeless allure and rarity make them the culinary equivalent of gold.

But what are they exactly?

Truffles are the fruiting bodies of a subterranean mushroom, a hypogean fungus, called mycelium. Belonging to the order of tuberales (ascomycetes), they develop a mycorhizic symbiosis with ZZzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz ….

..Truffles are actually underground mushrooms which grow on the roots of certain hardwood trees, most commonly oak, willow, poplar, chestnut and hazelnut.

But before you go rushing out and digging up the neighbour’s weeping willow, remember truffles need 3 essential conditions: the right soil, the right climate and the right tree. These elements all come together in certain areas of North and Central Italy.

How do you find them?
Truffles are located by their smell and pigs have the best “nose” for them. The problem is, when they find one they tend to wolf it down and let’s face it, taking a sounder of swine into the woods for a few hours can be a bit tricky, not to mention messy.

Dogs are now much more popular, despite the fact they have no natural ability to smell truffles! Truffle hunters used to train their dogs by hiding pieces of Gorgonzola around the place for them to dig out, nowadays some truffle oil on bread does the job a bit better. The most widely used breed is the Lagotto Romagnolo, chosen for their agility, digging prowess and dedication to the job.

Once trained, the hunter and faithful pooch will head off in the early hours armed with secret notebook akin to a treasure map with frenzied scrawlings of hidden paths, number of paces, the lay of the land, the soil conditions, the weather conditions and even the lunar cycle. (Some say truffles always grow again in the same place and under the same moon and that the best day for hunting truffles is the 5th morning after the full moon! Others say that’s nonsense..).

Types of Italian Truffles

Truffles can be divided into two main categories, black and white.

The White Truffle (Tartufo Magnatum Pico)

Season: Sept – end Dec
Il Re dei Re! The King of Kings, the white truffle. The most famous and delectable of them all and by far the most expensive! Truffle prices vary on a daily basis and even have their own bourse where Italian white truffle prices can reach £6000/kg.

Use: It is served in thin slivers on many first courses (eg. pasta dishes, risotto) and main courses (white or red meat, fish, egg dishes, potatoes etc.)

Black Winter/ Precious Black/ Perigord (Tuber Melanosporum)

Season: Dec – mid March
This black truffle comes under various names including the sweet rare truffle, truffle of Norcia, Truffle de Perigord and, after the white truffle, is considered the most valuable and desirable. Renowned for its complex, slightly sweet notes and earthy undertones, it’s the most aromatic of the black truffles. Prices can reach £1500/kg for fully mature, whole, round pieces.

Use: It has many uses in international cuisine. Like the white, it can be shaved directly onto just cooked dishes of pasta, rice, meat, fish, potatoes and omelettes. It can also be added at the end of cooking so the heat will bring out all its flavour.

The Summer truffle (Tuber Aestivum)

Season: March – September
This black truffle is found in relatively large quantities and is widely used in preserved form or infused into oils, butters and creams. Prices vary from £80 – £300/Kg

Use: Best when added whole during cooking (like a rather expensive stock cube!).

Autumn Black (Tuber Uncinatum)

Season: End Sept – end Jan
Another black truffle, quite similar to the summer truffle but has a more decisive, intense aroma and flavour. Fresh prices can vary between £ 200 – £ 800/Kg

Use: great with tagliatelle, frittate or shaved onto potatoes.

The Spring White or Bianchetto Truffle (Tuber Borchii Vitt.)

Season: Feb – May
Cheaper than the white truffle, it has a strong musky/garlic-like aroma, which adds its own unique depth to many dishes. Price £ 250 – £ 600/Kg

Use: Can be used during cooking or shaved directly at the table. Try it with Polenta or on Bruschetta.

More to read? – How about our Guide to Preserved Truffles Products

Looking for fresh Italian truffles? check out our service here.

Here you can find our vast range of delicious preserved truffles.

Guide to Italian Flour – Which One to Choose.

Italian Flour = Confusion!

Italian Flour = Confusion!

If you’ve ever wondered why your puff pastry has the lightness of a dumpling or why your pizza base looks like it’s been through the shredder, then it might be you’re using the wrong flour!

It seems where Italian flour is concerned, confusion reigns! A quick surf around on the web will give you totally contradicting info. So here’s a basic guide to give you the idea.

The 4 main classifications of Italian flour you’re likely to come across in the UK are designated 2, 1, 0 and 00. They are classified according to fineness of grind, with type 2 the coarsest and 00 the finest. The majority of Italian bakers and pizzaioli (pizza chefs) will often use a blend of different flours to benefit from the specific characteristics peculiar to each; firmness, elasticity, lightness, strength, crispiness, fluffiness etc.

00 Flour from Altamura.

00 flour is from the central part of the grain and is pure white. It is ideal for the most delicate jobs such as pastries, brioche, desserts, soft bread and some fresh pasta. 0 flour contains a part of the husk, the outer layer of the grain and is slightly darker and coarser. It’s extra strength makes it perfect for most bread and pasta and many use it successfully in pizza base.

The more the outer layer is used, the darker and courser the flour gets. Types 1 and 2 have good firmness and strength, suited to pizza base and bread, but are more often used blended with lighter flours. If all the outer layer is ground, we get wholegrain flour which is, as the name suggests the entire grain.

 

Semola di Grano Duro

Another very common Italian flour is Semolina or Semola di grano duro. This is a coarse flour ground from durum wheat which is hard and non elastic, perfect for classic dry pasta. Semolina flour is also blended with other flours to add crispiness to bread or pizza bases.

In summary:
Use 00 flour for fresh pasta, pastries and cakes and béchamel
Use 0 flour for fresh pasta, bread and pizza base
Use types 1 and 2 also suited to bread and pizza base (often good to combine 0 and 1 or 2)
Use Semola di Grano Duro for dry pasta and special bread or add to pizza base.

Pantondo – The Amazing Recreation of a 12th Century Tuscan Spiced Bread

Ahh there’s nothing we like better than fine gourmet food with a great story behind it!

Pantondo is the result of a collaboration between a group of medieval historians from Florence University and the Belli family, expert artisan confectioners from Prato, Tuscany. The idea was to create a product which faithfully reproduced the instructions of a 12th century recipe.

The historians had come across various manuscripts dating back to that period which described a Special Bread “peppered” or “spiced”. Similar bread was also cited in the private diaries of illustrious Tuscans such as Lorenzo De’ Medici, Michelangelo Buonarotti (Michelangelo) and Giorgio Vasari.

How did it Originate?

Spice trading was big business in 12th century Italy as merchants brought back many unusual and wonderful ingredients from the Orient. Most of these found their way into the great Benedictine Abbeys of Central Italy, where Italy’s finest chefs plied their trade surrounded by an abundance of some of the world’s best raw materials. It is in these abbeys where Pantondo most probably originated.

As was the norm at that time, Italian gastronomy was imbued with symbolic references and the individual ingredients of the Special Bread were no exception; e.g. honey, the food of the Gods par excellence is combined with the white almond, a symbol of purity.

Its popularity grew with pilgrims and travellers crossing the Appenines from Florence to Bologna and the North. It was long-lasting, tasty and nutritious and could also be made pocket-size!

Testing Times

Initially, the experiment to recreate the bread number encountered a number of difficulties. As you might imagine, the recipe wasn’t written as today, with a nice list of ingredients, correct proportions and step by step instructions! The historians found references to a “sweetmeat” which seemed to form the core ingredients of the bread and had to examine numerous documents to trace them.

A long series of trials were then held at the Belli family bakery to estimate the proportions and to determine the best leaven (crucial to the success of this type of product). The Belli family’s experience of using a “live” mother leaven was a critical factor in this experiment.

After testing different quantities and combinations they finally came up with what everyone believes to be the most faithful recreation, a stunning bread-cake featuring a mix of spices, honey and white almonds. Its delightful wrapping is also based on the traditions of the time.

Want to try some? Here it is….

Bottarga. The Caviar of the Med!

What is Bottarga?

Bottarga is a prized delicacy made by drying and curing fish roe from grey mullet or tuna. It can be found in various forms all around the Mediterranean, but the ones from Sicily and Sardinia are widely held to be the finest.

The name is thought to derive from the Arabic Bot-ah-rik or fish eggs and its use and traditional preparation can be traced back to the Phoenicians.

Ground Bottarga

The roe is cured using sea salt and left to dry naturally in the sun for several weeks. It is then pressed into a hard, dense block which is cut into strips or “tongues” and either dipped in beeswax to form a protective coating or ground into a ready to use powder.

..and how is it used?

Bottarga is often served as an antipasto by cutting it into very small wedges or thin slices with a drizzle of lemon juice. However, it is more commonly grated or sprinkled over other dishes, like a luxury seasoning.

Nice, what does it taste like?

Its flavour is bold and intense and just a little sprinkle will instantly deliver a magnificent surge of seafoodiness, carrying with it hints of smoked fish and conjuring images of the Mediterranean seaside.

Bottarga has a refined charm too and marries elegantly with countless dishes, enhancing without clashing. Check out our suggestions below for a few ideas on pairings.

Some ideas how to use Bottarga

Bottarga brings character and personality to all kinds of dishes, including most fish-based courses and many vegetable dishes too. In fact it’s one of those brilliant ingredients where you can let your imagination wander. We’d love to hear from you if you’ve concocted something delicious with Bottarga.

For inspiration here are a few simple ideas which work really well:

  • Perhaps the most classic Italian dish is Spaghetti alla Bottarga – incredibly easy and fiendishly tasty. Prepare some spaghetti, drizzle on EV olive oil and add chopped parsley, (garlic if you like), a little chilli, lemon juice and sprinkle or grate some bottarga over before serving.
  • Delicious with a simple tomato sauce – try it with some lightly fried cherry tomatoes. Can be served over pasta or rice.
  • How about a new twist for scrambled eggs on toast? Try it!
  • Wake up your baked potatoes by simply sprinkling on some bottarga. Delicious and different.
  • Cut the Bottarga tongue into wedges and serve as a simple antipasto with olive oil and lemon juice.
  • Whisk up some ricotta, sprinkle over the bottarga and dollop onto crostini or toasted bread.
  • Artichoke hearts with bottarga, fennel and EV olive oil. Stylish!
  • Greek yoghurt and (or) whipped cream, smoked salmon, fresh parsley with bottarga sprinkled over.
  • A refined pizza with asparagus, onion, anchovies or tuna and bottarga.
  • Bruschetta with celery, tomato salad and bottarga
  • Potato, celery and tomato salad with bottarga
  • Seafood risottos spring to life with a little bottarga added
  • Tuna carpaccio with mixed bean salad, anchovies and bottarga.
  • Try it with some Asian dishes too.

Bottarga is now found in many top restaurants as chefs are discovering its unique ability to transform a simple fish dish into a work of art. It’s also a blessing for the time-challenged chefs amongst us!

If you don’t know Bottarga, why not try it out? You can find our Ground Bottarga by Villa Reale from Sicily here.

Ground Bottarga by Villa Reale

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San Marzano PDO – The King of Tomatoes!

San Marzano PDO (Protected Designation of Origin or DOP in Italian) tomatoes are one of the most emblematic products of Mediterranean cuisine and arguably the world’s finest for making sauces.

But with production costs almost 3 times higher than other pomodori pelati (peeled tomatoes) and a supply which nearly always runs out after a few months, what is it that makes these elongated plum tomatoes with pointy ends the undisputed Re dei pomodori?

Well, annoyingly for other tomatoes, they are one of those irksome types that swagger around managing to please everyone…

Producers are delighted: They have very few seeds and the peel practically falls off. It is the only type of pelato that fully keeps its shape and doesn’t break up during processing.

Consumers are thrilled: Real San Marzano PDOs enjoy a vibrant, rich and sweet taste with low acidity and a stirring bittersweet finale. This flavour profile really sparks into life when they are made into sauces. They’re healthy too; brimming with vitamins A, B and C and rich in Licopene, a fashionable antioxidant. It is also 90% water so you can eat lots of them without having to adjust your girdle.

Chefs are ecstatic: Their flesh is dense and meaty with superb consistency of texture and low acidity while their vivid red colour really makes a sauce stand out. They have a growing reputation as the tomato of choice for chefs world-wide. The Pizza Association of Naples (the true home of pizza) recently ruled that for a pizza to be considered as real Pizza Napoletana only San Marzano DOP tomatoes can be used.

Location. Location. Location.

Like a fine wine, the remarkable terroir of the PDO area is a determining factor in the formation of these distinct characteristics.

Production is limited to a small region around the town of San Marzano, from Pompeii to Paestum, on the beautiful foothills of Mount Vesuvius. The mineral-rich volcanic soil and Mediterranean climate provide the perfect environment for growing tomatoes. This setting, combined with the expertise of resident farmers who have been crossing local varietals for decades, has culminated in the San Marzano as we know it today.

Regardless of the costs involved, PDO production rules call for vertical cultivation, using wires attached to wooden supports and harvesting must be done manually. In simple terms it’s a bit like growing them in your back garden with a stick and a bit of string.  Of course that’s fine if you have half a dozen plants, but imagine if you have 150,000 of them! You might have to get your neighbour to help out.

The San Marzano Swindle

We mentioned San Marzanos like to please everyone. Unfortunately they are also a counterfeiter’s dream. With a total production of around 2200 tons (2009) and a demand at least 10 times higher, it is sadly inevitable some suspect companies will stick labels onto unbranded tomatoes using the San Marzano name with the “D.O.P” seal next to it.

The Consorzio of San Marzano (www.consorziopomodorosanmarzanodop.it) tries its best to stop the fraudsters but can only do so much. It is said that only 5% of San Marzanos on sale in the US are actually PDO! Here are some easy ways to spot the scam:

Canned San Marzano PDO tomatoes are only ever produced as whole or filleted. So if you see any which are pureed, chopped, diced, with ingredients added, ready-made into a sauce or even organic, then they are not the real deal. They will always come in a can which states ‘Pomodoro San Marzano dell’Agro Sarnese-Nocerino D.O.P.’ together with a unique and traceable serial number and the Consortium logo.”

San Marzano Timeline

1770s A popular story recounts how the first plants to arrive in the area were a gift from the Kingdom of Peru to the Kingdom of Naples. However this is unlikely, as there wasn’t a King of Peru at that time and Peruvian tomatoes were small and green! It is more likely that they originated from Spanish stock and after years of varietal crossing the San Marzano has evolved.

1875 The first processing and canning facility is opened near Naples by Francesco Cirio. San Marzanos can now be shipped all around Italy.

1900s First export documents appear listing San Marzano tomatoes.

1920s Much evidence of San Marzano across Southern Europe including sale of seeds.

1970s  Sales of the poor San Marzano plummet as more resistant and cheaper plum tomatoes come to the fore and large-scale businesses seek quantity not quality.

1990s The San Marzano re-emerges as a new generation of consumers and chefs demand higher quality products.

PDO logo can be displayed on any approved West...

1996 It is granted PDO status, which means much greater protection and control over production and quality.

1999 PDO status officially ratified by the EU and the Consortium is founded.

2009 Mediterranean Direct gets its first stock of San Marzano PDO tomatoes! :-)

If you want to try some genuine San Marzano PDOs for yourselves, you can find them here. And after reading all this you deserve a medal a little something. If you enter the code SANBLOG during checkout, you’ll get 10% off the King of tomatoes!

Black Venere – The Forbidden Rice.

Black Venere is a prized wholegrain rice which is extraordinary from many perspectives. The first thing you notice, of course, is its remarkable deep purple, almost black colour. This is totally natural and comes from its ebony external layer.

Steamy Past

Black Venere rice originates from china where, up until the 18th century, it was cultivated exclusively for the Emperor and his Court. Named after the Goddess of Love, it was considered to be a potent aphrodisiac and legend has it that is precisely why only the Emperor and his entourage could enjoy it! It was named “the Forbidden Rice”.

Venere rice cultivation began in Italy began in the 1990s when Chinese Rice expert Dr. Wang Xue Ren chose the Vercelli region of Piedmont to set up test fields. Venere has thrived in the area since.

Anti-age effect

The rice is rich in essential amino acids, fibre, phosphorous and Vitamin B5 and full of minerals like calcium, iron, zinc and selenium. But its most significant property is its extremely high content of anthocyanins which capture free radicals and prevent oxidation. In fact it is the anthocyanins which give the rice its amazing colour. So not only might it increase your libido, it keeps you younger looking too! Or is that asking a bit too much…..?

How to Use

Riso Venere has a mild nutty flavour with a hint of sandalwood and its aroma of freshly baked bread becomes more discernible as it cooks. It is ideal for rice salads, soups, as a side for white meats, but reaches its pinnacle with seafood. Excellent with Asian cuisine too!

Suggested cooking time: 40 – 45 minutes. (with Pilaf method)

Check out our Black Venere Rice from Riseria Molinaro, Vercelli.

Feel free to comment below or drop us a line if you have any questions.