I know this is more formal than I usually am with you but I wrote this as an article for one of my other sites. I decided to delete it there and publish it here because I figured you guys would be interested. 🙂
With the popularity of food shows, food reality television, and celebrity chefs more home-cooks are using exotic ingredients than ever before. Saffron, wild caught salmon, and truffles used to be ingredients found only in five star kitchens but today these ingredients, and thousands more, are available to almost everyone.
Truffle oil, French truffle oil, black truffle oil, and white truffle oil are all similar oils that have been infused with the taste of truffle, a fungus much like a mushroom that grows underground.
What Is a Truffle?
Simply put, a truffle is a fungus like a mushroom but it grows underground near certain species of trees. The type of truffle is dependent on the type of tree it grows by. It reproduces by spores like other fungi, however since the spores of a truffle cannot be released underground the spores are spread in the feces of the animals that eat the truffles.
Finding truffles is traditionally done with a “truffle hog”. This is a female pig that naturally searches for truffles as part of her diet. Recently dogs have begun to be trained to sniff out this delicacy because it is difficult to keep the pigs from eating the harvest.
Truffles can sell for as much as $30.00 USD an ounce.
Varieties of Truffles
Truffles come in several varieties. Most truffles are considered either white or black, although is a variety of truffle that is considered red because its flavor is reminiscent of berries. Some truffle varieties are:
This is the black truffle on the menu of many gourmet restaurants. It grows by oak and hazelnut trees and can reach weights of up to 4 ounces each. They grow primarily in France, although some other European countries have them, and are harvested in the autumn and winter months.
The burgundy truffle is a type of black truffle and has been well known in the world of the gourmand since medieval times. It has a coffee colored interior and smells a bit like cornmeal. It is most often used with fresh vegetables.
These black truffles have a hard shell and dark flesh with veins of white running throughout. It has a light scent and delicate flavor and is very inexpensive. Oils made with this truffle will not have the rich flavor of other truffle oils and this is what you most often find at your grocers.
This species of black truffle has a garlicky scent and a smooth surface skin dotted with warts.
Hungarian Dessert Truffle
This is a uniquely sweet truffle that is found in Hungary. This member of the white truffle family it is found near black locust trees. It is often used in desserts and ice creams.
The Italian white truffle is considered to be the most luxurious truffle of all. It has a flavor that combines garlic and shallots with an earthy mushroom flavor and scent.
Pecan truffles grow in the Southern United States around pecan trees. They are only just starting to be used in commercial kitchens but sell for about $100.00 USD a pound.
Truffle oil originated as a way to add the luxurious flavor of truffles to their dishes without the extreme cost of the fresh truffle. In order to make truffle oil a light oil is infused with pieces of truffle until the oil carries both the flavor and scent of the fungus. Le the buyer beware, however. Much of the inexpensive truffle oil found at your local market is a cheap imitation, made with oil and a chemical that is naturally found in the truffle. It contains no real truffle at all.
Using Truffle Oil in Recipes
Often truffle oil is lightly sprinkled over a dish just before serving. This allows the aroma to be at its peak. Foods that benefit from this oil are:
- Garlic bread
How to Make Truffle Oil
For the best flavor, and to ensure that you are using the real thing, you can make your own truffle oil with any type of truffle you prefer. The black truffle tends to have a richer flavor while the white is more delicate.
Use any oil that you like, including a good olive oil.
Where to Buy Truffles
You will probably have to use an Internet source for truffles if you decide to buy them. They are expensive but a little goes a long way, whether in oils or for fresh use. Some of the sites that sell fresh truffles are:
You can also find dried and brined truffles at your local gourmet foods shop or on Amazon.
Add Five Star Flavor
There are many that will scoff the use of this expensive ingredient and say that it does not make that much difference in food. Perhaps a cheap, chemical based oil does nothing for a dish but when you buy the real thing you will soon realize that it only takes a few drops to create an incredible dining experience.
photo credit: sxc