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.
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 nicely. 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, precious black, Norcia truffle, 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.