Truffles are arguably the most expensive foodstuff on the planet, retailing at over $200 an ounce. They are a fungus, similar to mushrooms, which grow under 3-12 inches deep around the roots of chestnut, oak, hazel and beech trees. They are sniffed out by either pigs or dogs, together with the humans who dig them up. This is extremely specialised work, as truffles need to be harvested in one piece to be sold to the best restaurants worldwide, who generally garnish some of their creations with finely shaven fresh truffles known as carpacchio. Damaged specimens are not nearly as valued as perfect ones. tartufata As truffles are extremely perishable, any damage causes them rot very quickly, so they are used in various ways to preserve their exotic and remarkable flavour. They have to be harvested at exactly the right time – too soon and they will be too mall and soft; too late and they will be woody and bitter. The best truffles come from Italy and France, with some noted examples grown in a few states in America and also in Australia. White summer truffles have the strongest flavour; there are also black winter, burgundy and bianchetti varieties.
The less perfect specimens are used in many ways, such as:
Oils and vinegars – mostly olive oil and balsamic vinegar, where they impart their particular flavour on many foods and in salad dressings. One uses only tiny amounts, as these oils and vinegars are very concentrated;
Pastes, purees and pesto – to be added to sauces and for marinades; and spread on, for example, crackers and crostini as appetisers;
Butters, mousses and tapenades – to dress vegetables, fish, chicken and pasta dishes;
Pasta, polenta and rice can be purchased in bags with added chopped truffles for easy and glamorous entertaining;
Liver and game pates and sausages, giving a gourmet touch to these rich meat dishes;
Creams and cheeses – such as full fat cream cheese, pecorino and boschetto – are produced with added truffles, to be used in fondues, as spreads and in sauces;
Artichokes, dried tomatoes, mushrooms, asparagus and many other vegetables are bottled or canned in truffle oil, to be added to your favourite foods;
Mustards, sea salt, juice and peelings are also bottled to enable one to capture the earthy flavour of truffles in your recipes;
Alembic brandy, black truffle aperitif and liqueurs are the alcohols produced;
Honey is made with an infusion of either white or black truffles and is used as a marinade, served on bread or crackers with cheese, or added to desserts, soufflés and omelets.
Dark chocolates are created with black truffles and white chocolates with white truffles.
Finally, there is a gourmet white popcorn on the market in America, which is dusted with black Perigord truffles, which are the most expensive.
Possibly the most famous recipe using truffles is Paul Bocuse’s Black Truffle Elysée Soup, which the famous French chef created for a dinner at the Élysée Palace when he received the Legion of Honour from President Valéry Giscard d’Estaing in 1975.