Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Truffles

Truffles is a fungus (a.k.a mushroom). It grows underground near trees, usually in a forest.  Black truffles, which grows exclusively with oak trees, are the second most expensive food just behind saffron.  This underground mushroom is poorly understood by farmers and scientists.  Unlike other mushroom, truffles cannot be cultivated artificially inside a greenhouse.

 In the past, farmers use pigs, who love truffles, to sniff and dig them out, but the pigs often eat these before the farmers can get their hands on it.  Then the farmers trained dogs to sniff out truffles, but then the dogs got addicted and started eating these mushroom too.  Apparently, you can train a human being to sniff these out too.  Maybe that's what farmers will do next.   With global warming and deforestation, truffle supplies are steadily declining.

Truffles happen to be the drug of choice for foodies around the world.  A kilograms of fresh whole black truffle (remember how pigs and dogs eat the truffle they dig out?) is $1,000 Euro.  In Italy, the locations of truffle forests are closely guarded secrete and whole black truffles are used as a form of currency for the Italian mafia.

This little bottle containing 5 little preserved truffle costed me $26.  And Dirty Apron ran out when I tried to picked up some on Thursday.  A small vial of truffle oil is about $9, which is probably a cheaper alternative.

Truffles are prized for their strong pungent aroma.  You either love it or hate it. I have seen it in pasta, salad, roasts, foie gras, cheeses.  White truffle is a lot more pungent than black truffle, but the black ones have more refined flavours than the whites.

Foods that capture the aroma for truffles well are eggs, potatoes, rice, pasta and cream. Garlic, onion, chives, leek, celery, celery root, and parmesan enhance the flavour of truffles, but it can be added to just about anything to add complexity to the flavour and aroma of the dish.

I find that my bottled truffle loses its flavour very quickly.  In order to maximize its aroma, I had to quickly add it to the base of the dish (such as sauce) and set it aside in a sealed container for a couple hours.  I have much better luck with truffle oil which I drizzle on pretty much anything.

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