Everybody Loves Truffles
History of Truffles
Truffles are a type of fungus used most often in Italian and other Mediterranean cooking. The word truffle comes from the Latin word tuber, meaning “swelling” or “lump”, based on its shape. Truffles come in both black and white varieties and grow between the roots of a number of different types of trees. White truffles, found mostly in Tuscany and the Piedmont region of Italy, are known to be more rare and exotic than the black variety prevalent in France and are therefore more expensive. Sought-after species of truffles can sell for between $1000 and $2200 per pound.
What is so special about truffles, and how did they become prized in cuisine?
How Truffles are Harvested
Originally, truffles were harvested using female pigs because it was thought that the scent of truffles was similar to the male pig pheromone. However, the use of pigs became uneconomical because they would often eat the truffles before they could be retrieved by the farmers. Truffles are currently hunted by highly trained and extremely pricey dogs. Beginning when they are just puppies, the dogs are trained using pieces of cheese having a pungent odor which are buried for the dogs to find.
White truffles are harvested from September to December, while black truffles may be harvested between November and March.
Since 1985, Italy has banned the use of pigs to hunt truffles, as they tend to damage the truffle’s mycelia – an important part of the fungal colony and future production of truffles.
Truffles in Cuisine
Truffles can be used in many different ways in Italian dishes. They are often used sparingly due to their intense flavor and aroma as well as their price tag. They can be eaten raw, thinly shaved over pastas, salads and eggs. A less expensive option is to use truffle oil, which can be drizzled over pizza, seafood, cheese, and rice dishes. Truffles can also be incorporated into butter used to top grilled meats.
White truffles are never cooked, only served fresh, while black truffles are able to withstand the heat of cooking and may be used in omelets, sauces or spreads. You may find truffle risotto or truffle produced in dried pastas as well.
If truffles are to be preserved, they may be placed in a light brine (solution of water and salt). Truffle oil is very delicate, and is not used in cooking; rather, it is used as a flavor element at the serving of a dish – usually drizzled. In Italy, it was believed that truffles grew where lightning struck – and because lightning strikes are so rare – this is why truffles are considered culinary gold!
In the mood for truffles? At Cucina Toscana, you may sample truffle oil in two of our favorite dishes: zuppa di asparagi (asparagus soup) and tritico pasta del giorno (gnocchi and ravioli). Join us for a taste of truffle!