Introduction to Truffles
What is a truffle?
A truffle is the reproductive fruiting body of a mycorrhizal system. A mycorrhizal system is the symbiotic relationship that forms between fungi and plants. Truffles are fungi that form that relationship with specific host species.
Where do they grow?
Truffles grow in suitable climates around the world. They grow underground, on and around the root systems of trees.
Why do truffles grow underground?
Truffles are tubers. Tubers typically grow underground. In some plants they are used for storing nutrients for survival in winter or dry seasons. In some they are a means of asexual reproduction. Truffles develop underground and safely out of sight of damage or predators, until they reach maturity and are ready to reproduce.
How are truffles found?
Truffles are primarily found through the scents they emit as they ripen. These powerful aromas are easily detected above ground by many types of animals, who eat them and spread their spores so they can reproduce. Dogs have been trained to locate ripe truffles for harvest for centuries. Pigs have also been used by humans to find truffles but it is no longer a common method.
What is the best way to harvest a truffle?
Ideal harvesting practices for truffles rely upon a well trained truffle dog and its knowledgeable handler. A well trained truffle dog will locate truffles that have begun their ripening process and are therefore mature enough to be harvested. While rake harvesting will potentially yield many more truffles in a producing patch, many of those will still be immature when harvested and have no culinary value. These immature truffles are essentially wasted at that point. In addition to the obvious initial waste, indiscriminate broadcast raking can and does damage the mycorrhizal system and can have devastating consequences for the future of a truffle patch.
Why eat a truffle?
Truffles are filled with nutrients and are dense in protein but the main reason humans eat truffles is because of the wonderful flavors and aromas they impart when paired with other foods. Ultimately, truffles have been identified as a “Bliss” food because their volatile oils are related to certain mammalian pheromones 9including human’s), and who doesn’t need more culinary bliss in their life?
How should I eat a truffle?
While you can safely eat a whole truffle, or slices of truffle raw, most people find that a raw bite of truffle on its own is not the preferred way to experience all the truffle has to offer, and can often cause stomach upset. The aromatic oils and flavors contained in a truffle are expressed when cooked or added to a warm dish. For instance, placing a shaving of fresh truffle on a warm omelet will cause the volatile aromas and flavors to be released by the heat and steam emanating from it. It also happens to pair very nicely with the inherent flavors of an omelet.
Are all truffles edible?
There are thousands of truffle species that grow around the world, and while many of them are technically edible, there are only about a dozen species that are known for their culinary value.
How should I store a fresh truffle?
Ideally a truffle should be refrigerated, but never frozen, as you store and ripen it. It is important to keep them as dry as possible, particularly as moisture starts to accumulate on the surface of the truffle. Keeping them wrapped in frequently changed paper towels while storing is a good method. Avoid rice and other desiccants because they will do more harm than good for the truffle as a whole. Since truffles are still alive and respirating after harvest as you ripen them, it is critical that they get oxygen several times a day for that process to continue. Therefore, if stored in an airtight environment for gas infusion or to protect the other items in your refrigerator from becoming truffle scented, the container should be open a few times a day to allow the oxygen to be refreshed.
How long can I store a fresh truffle?
That depends on many factors including; type of truffle, ripeness at harvesting, condition at harvesting. For the hardier types of truffles, a week to ten days is not an uncommon shelf life if starting in good condition, early in its ripening process. For more delicate truffles like the Oregon black truffle, 3 – 6 days is common, assuming proper care, storage and handling.
Will all truffles ripen?
The short answer is no. If a truffle is harvested before it reaches maturity it will never truly ripen for culinary uses. This is why dog harvesting is so important to the truffle industry, since dogs are only identifying truffles that are already mature and starting to ripen.
Can you preserve a truffle?
We are not fans of freezing or dehydrating truffles, as their culinary value is akin to that of button mushrooms. You can capture much of the aroma and essence of truffles through infusion or by integrating them into appropriate into shelf stable products. These are the best ways preserve truffle flavor and aroma and while they can be a lovely taste of truffle out of season, they will never replace the truly transcendent experience that cooking with fresh truffles in season offers.
Which is the best kind of truffle?
Most cultures will tell you that their local truffle is the best, but with so much variation in flavor and aroma profiles it is ultimately a question of what tastes best to you. Each type of truffle has different things to offer and pairs better with some things than others. Our belief is the best truffle is the one that is in season and enjoyed as close to harvest and its source as possible. It really helps to have the truffle prepared by a local chef who is extremely familiar with the subtleties and nuances of that particular type of truffle. Ultimately, the best truffle is always the one you’re going to get to enjoy next!