Though they may look like clods of dirt, there’s little doubt that for those who enjoy fine cuisine one of the very best ingredients you can get your hands on, the peerless kings (or queens) of the kitchen, are fresh truffles.
There’s no denying they’re pricy however, and there are so many truffle terms and origins flying about that it’s easy to be overwhelmed. The below guide should give you a good foundation from which to take the great leap into gastronomic ecstasy.
Buying the Right Truffle for You – Factors in Your Decision:
Check out our wild food season chart for a rough idea of when to expect each variety. Preserved truffles and truffle products are available year round.
Black Truffles vs White Truffles (from a technique perspective):
In general the aroma and flavor of black truffles (and black truffle products) tend to be less heat sensitive, making them the preferred choice for lightly cooked applications. White truffles (and white truffle products) are more intense, complex, and are usually added to cooked food at the very last second.
As all of the premier truffle varieties are harvested in relatively small quantities, the primary determination of their price is their desirability. Comparing the price of truffles gives you a good idea of rarity and what gourmets and chefs prefer. The general rule is that you get what you pay for flavor-wise.
The Truffle Chart – From Truffle Curious to Truffle Master:
Truffle Products = Perfect (and most affordable) way to start
If you want to get a sense of what the fuss is all about without spending much, check out truffle products. They’re affordable, non-perishable, and easy to experiment with. Our favorite places to start are All Natural Truffle Oils, Truffle Butters and Truffle Salt, but there are many other options. Read How to Use Truffle Products for all the info you need to get started.
Jarred Truffles: Just for looks
There’s no denying Whole Jarred Truffles, Truffle Peelings and Truffle Breakings are convenient and far cheaper than fresh truffles…but they don’t have a lot of flavor either. What most chefs use them for is adding the texture and appearance of truffles to a dish while simultaneously using truffle oils or salt too in order to introduce truffle flavor. We’re not wild about them and would recommend any other truffle product instead, but they do have a place in the truffle lexicon.
Fresh Oregon Truffles: Entry Level for Fresh Truffles
When you’re ready to try cooking with your first fresh truffle, stay close to home and go with a wild Oregon truffle! It’s true that they’re not as strong as European truffles, but they’re not as expensive either.
Oregon white truffles Tuber Oregonense & Tuber Gibbosum (usually Apr-Jun & Nov-Jan). Technically two different species that mature at different times of the year, these two varieties are similar enough that they are sold as the same product. Their aroma is intense yet complex. Like the famous White Alba truffle, they’re best enjoyed thinly sliced over hot food.
Oregon black truffles Leucangium Carthusianum (usually Dec-Mar) are rarer than Oregon white truffles. They have a pungent aroma sometimes described as “earthy pineapple” and a strong flavor.
If you’re outside the normal fresh seasons, you can still get frozen Oregon truffles year round.
Intermediate Level Fresh Truffles: Mid-Range European Black Truffles
Italian Black Summer Truffles Tuber Aestivum Vitt (usually May-Aug) are more subtle than the famous Perigords, which makes them both more affordable and a good choice for lighter spring and summer dishes. Their flavor has been described as sweet, almost chocolaty. These truffles are best used to finish cooked dishes.
Frozen black summer truffles are also available year round.
Burgundy Black Truffles Tuber Uncinatum (usually Nov-Feb) are a delicious truffle variety harvested in many different countries in Europe (“Burgundy” is the name of the variety, not necessarily the place of origin). Not as strong as the more expensive (and famous) Perigords, they’re best used to finish cooked dishes.
Bianchetti White Truffles Tuber Borchii (usually Jan-Mar) are the smallest and least well known of the European truffle varieties. Darker in color than Alba Truffles (brown to dark orange), and often no bigger than quail eggs, they’re nevertheless quite potent and offer a similar flavor. They’re a lot more affordable than Albas, making them an excellent way to try real fresh Italian white truffles for the first time. Bianchetti truffles are best used to finish cooked dishes, as their flavor is very heat sensitive.
Truffle Master: The Very Best European Truffles
French Perigord Black Winter Truffles Tuber Melanosporum (usually Dec-Mar) simply put, these are the finest (and most expensive) black truffles in the world. Perigords can be distinguished from other European black truffle varieties by their interior appearance – white veins running through black flesh. Wild-foraged and intensely aromatic with rich, deep flavor; they put all the other black truffles on this list to shame.
Many modern American chefs prefer to not cook or only lightly cook fresh black truffles to preserve their flavor and aroma. That said, Perigords are the variety best suited to classic French poultry or meat dishes where black truffle slices are buttered and slid under the skin or inserted into slits cut into meat prior to roasting.
If Perigord truffles are out of season and you don’t want to wait, frozen perigord truffles are also available.
Italian White Alba Truffles Tuber Magnatum Pico (usually Oct-Dec) If there is one truffle gourmands love more than the Perigord, (and not all of them do, to the French the Perigord is the pinnacle) it’s the peerless White Alba of northern Italy.
Delicately shaved over hot white truffle risotto, polenta with pot roast, egg dishes and pasta dishes, this truffle carries the lucky few who get their hands on it each year to culinary nirvana. Alba truffles match beautifully with butter, cheese (especially parmigiano reggiano), chicken, veal and lobster. Try adding it to aioli for the world’s most exclusive sandwich.
Like the Perigord truffle, alba truffles can be used in roasted meat applications, though many truffle purists insist that they only be used raw, shaved over just cooked food.
Fresh alba truffles are the ultimate in white truffledom, but their season is fleeting. Frozen alba truffles are available year round and very good indeed!
More Reading: Truffle Tips
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