What is a truffle?
- Underground fungus (grows usually 1 to 2 inches underground, can go down to 8 inches at end of season).
- Restricted to living symbiotic life, connected to host trees (mainly oak, hazel, willow trees)
- Either wild or cultivated.
How it started?
- 4,000 years ago in Mesopotamia.
- 1840: Joseph Talon and Auguste Rousseau started to “cultivate” truffles (just planting acorns in forests).
- 1863: Phylloxera destroys vineyards in South of France.
- Vineyards are replaced by “truffières”. Truffles took off.
- 1914/1918: 1st world war. Big drop in truffle production.
- 1960: scientific research gets organized to prevent disappearance and favor production.
- A century ago: 1,300 tons in France. 60% South West, 34% South East, 6% Center.
- Today: 30/40 tons in France, 80% South East.
- Today: average production of 12kg per acre and per year
- Drop in production due to: change in climate (not enough rain), pollution, fewer forests, destruction of habitat, fewer growers / ”caveurs” willing to invest time and money, vicious circle (the fewer truffles there are, the fewer there will be).
Different kind of truffles:
- Tuber Magnatum Pico • White Truffle (Alba)
- Tuber Melanosporum Vittadini • Black Winter Truffle (Périgord)
- Tuber Uncinatum Chatin •Burgundy Truffle (Autumn)
- Tuber Aestivum Vittadini • Black Summer Truffle (Saint-Jean)
How does it happen/How does a truffle grow?
- Wild: small insects are spreading around the truffle “spores” near oak/hazel/willow trees.
- Cultivation: process of inoculating roots (called radicelles) of young oak/hazel trees with tuber melanosporum spores. Place the small trees “plants truffiers” into the nursery. Mychorrization process takes from 3 weeks to 3 months.
- After a period of time, mycorrhized “plants truffiers” are removed from the nursery and planted into the “truffières” five/six meters apart. Then irrigate, wait & wishing for good climate!
- Oak trees: takes 10 to 12 years and production will last for 30 to 40 years.
- Hazel trees: takes 5 to 8 years and production will last 15 to 20 years.
- Three key factors: Soil, Climate, Tree
Tuber Magnatum • White Truffle (Alba)
- The white truffle, like the other species of truffles, is an underground fungus that lives a symbiotic life with a tree. It is connected to the root of the host tree. Unlike the black truffle, the white truffle grows only wild.
- When: The ripening period is from September to December. November is the biggest “harvest” month.
- Skin: Also called peridium, the skin is smooth, pale cream, yellowish, with sometimes bright red spots and a brown cracked area.
- Shape: Can be evenly or irregularly shaped. White truffles are from the size of a cherry to a grapefruit. They are found at a depth from approximately 2” to 10”.
- Flesh: Also called gleba, the flesh is first gray white, then beige or light brown tainted with a touch of ochre with veins.
- Perfume and Taste: Intense, earth, garlic, shallots and grana cheese.
- Soil, climate: The white truffle grows in woody areas. The soil must be quite rich in limestone, poor in phosphorous and nitrogen, rich in Potassium, with a PH between 6.8 and 8.5, poor in organic matter. Soil needs to be able to retain humidity and needs to be soft and fine, like a powder. For example, along the banks of streams, along cultivated areas and in the middle of woods and forests are good spots for white truffles to grow. They don’t need a lot of light and the temperature variation during the day should be minimal. Climate needs to be temperate. Dry summers are not good for white truffle growth.
- Where: In Italy and Istria. In Italy, the white truffle is found principally in Piedmont, Emilia Romagna, Marche, Molise, Tuscany and in lesser quantities in Lombardy, Umbria and Abruzzi. Istria is the region that lies in Northern Croatia and the white truffle grows in the region of the Motovun woods near the village of Livade and in the valley of the river Mirna. We also start to find white truffles in Eastern Europen countries (ex: Roumania)
- Trees: Oak, hazel, poplar trees, and to a lesser extent willow, lime, beech trees.
Tuber Melanosporum Vittadini • Black Winter Truffle (Périgord)
- When: The ripening period is from December to March.
- Skin: Small pyramid shaped warts, black with sometimes dark brown patches.
- Shape and Size: More or less round. Size varies from a hazelnut to an orange. Shape and size do not affect the quality of a truffle. Smaller truffles are as good and intense than larger ones. Truffles that grow in the mountain areas and in rocky grounds tend to be distorted. Truffles that grow in sandy areas tend to be round.
- Flesh: First white, then gray and eventually black at maturity with a hint of purple and with distinctive white veins. Crunchy and soft.
- Perfume and Taste: May vary depending on the “terroir”. The perfume may range from wet mushroom, humus, hazelnut, chocolate, and strawberry to alcohol!
- Earth/Soil: calcareous, aerated, not too clayey, needs to drain and dry well
- Climate: cold winters without too much frost. Humid and mild springs. Hot summers with heavy rains in July and August. Alternation of sun and rain is best. Good irrigation is necessary.
- Host trees: oak, hazel, poplar, willow trees
- Where: France (Provence/Vaucluse - Périgord), Italy (Umbria – Tuscany - Marche), Spain (Soria - Teruel - Aragon), Western Australia (from June to August), NSW, Victoria and Tasmania (end of June to September).
How to hunt truffles?
- The Dog – a ripe truffle releases a gas that the dog smells. The dog will mark the ground with its paw and “the caveur” starts digging with a little hoe. The dog is rewarded with a very special treat: a truffle flavored biscuit! Truffle hunters often use Labradors and crossbreed dogs are also familiar. In Italy, Lagotto Romagnolo and Bracco Italiano are very common depending on the collection areas. Pigs are no longer used. Although very smart animals they are difficult to train and tend to eat the truffles at the end!
- The Fly – “La Mouche”- a certain species of flies will fly over truffle growing areas and lay their eggs there.
- The Brulé – the black winter truffle mycelium burns the surface of the ground. A lack of vegetation at the bottom of a tree means that truffles might be underneath.
- Black truffles: there are many truffle markets, but the most famous truffle ones are Carpentras and Richerenches in Provence and Lalbenque in Périgord. They usually take place over the weekend. According to supply and demand, the price of the truffles is decided, and deals are made.
- Alba Truffle: like its black counterpart, there are many white truffle Markets. The most known are the market of Alba in Piedmont, La Sagra del Tartufo Bianco in Tuscany and the Acqualagna Truffle Fair in Marche and the truffle fair of Livade and Buje in Croatia, Istria.
How to clean truffles?
- Clean just before use
- Truffles should be gently hand brushed. Dry brushing is better, but a tiny stream of water is ok.
How to store truffles?
To be enjoyed at their best, truffles should be used within a few days of being unearthed.
To keep truffles fresh for longer (up to about 5/7 days) gently wrap fresh truffles in absorbent paper, such as a paper towel, and store in a dry, tight container in the crisper compartment of the refrigerator. The absorbent paper should be changed daily, and the jar/container must be kept dry.
Truffles have a very strong aroma, which will quickly impregnate any other foods in the fridge, so it's important to store them in their own container. Place them in a glass container with eggs or butter, that will make a nice truffle omelette!
Never store truffles in rice. This will dry them out!
Truffles lose moisture, weight as well as aroma overtime. If they grow a little white mold, brush it off under a stream of cold water and allow the truffles before replacing in the refrigerator.
Storing for several months:
It is possible to freeze black truffles. Clean the truffles as described above, allow to dry, wrap in aluminum foil or in vacuumed plastic bag and store in freezer. When it is cooking time, thinly slice the frozen truffles (when still 80% frozen). This way they will retain their natural juice and their full aroma.
On the other end, freezing white truffles is not a good idea. White truffles are meant to be consumed fresh.
Preserving in alcohol – black truffles: Clean the truffles as described above, allow to dry, place in a jar and cover completely with cognac. However, keep in mind that cognac might overwhelm the truffles’ natural flavor.
Preserving by sterilization – black truffles: Place the washed and brushed truffles in a small jar. Add a little salt and a teaspoon of water for every 50 grams of truffle. Seal the jar airtight. Sterilize at boiling temperature (100°C or 212ºF).
How to cook with truffles?
Foods that capture the aroma of truffles (whether they are black or whites) are eggs, potatoes, rice, pasta and cream. Garlic, onion, chives, leek, celery, celery root, and parmesan enhance the flavor of truffles.
Chefs often pair truffles with scallops, crayfish, foie gras, poultry and asparagus. The addition of truffles can
turn a basic dish into a gastronomic delight.