Truffles

The truffle is a hypogean fungus which grows underground alongside the roots of certain trees and shrubs, such as oaks, lindens, poplars and hazels. It contains a high percentage of water, fibres, mineral salts and organic substances provided by the tree it lives in symbiosis with. Its persistent, pungent aroma only develops when it is ripe, and a trained dog is able to sniff one out even when it is several centimetres below the surface. There are many different species of truffle, with the best-known and loved by gourmets being: Tuber Magnatum Pico, Tuber Aestivum and Tuber Melanosporum.


Better known as the White Truffle of Alba, the Tuber Magnatum Pico ripens between mid-September and the end of January (each year the regional authorities set the dates for the start and the end of the truffle hunting season). On the outside, white truffles are smooth and light-coloured, while inside they are a yellowish white with light brown or red nuances that vary depending on the type of soil and the plant they have received nourishment from. Fine, compact light-coloured veins typically run through them as part of their ramified root system. The size can vary from tiny to as much as one kilo in weight, while the shape depends largely on the soil they grow in: rounder if the soil is soft, and more irregular with recesses and bulges if they have developed in hard, stony ground. They grow in the wild, and are relatively rare as their growth depends on seasonal and environmental factors. In years when the crop is poor, the price shoots up, making the white truffle the most valuable fruit of the earth in the world. It has a very strong, particular taste, and a decidedly intense smell, with aromatic overtones reminiscent at times of garlic.


Better known as the White Truffle of Alba, the Tuber Magnatum Pico ripens between mid-September and the end of January (each year the regional authorities set the dates for the start and the end of the truffle hunting season). On the outside, white truffles are smooth and light-coloured, while inside they are a yellowish white with light brown or red nuances that vary depending on the type of soil and the plant they have received nourishment from. Fine, compact light-coloured veins typically run through them as part of their ramified root system. The size can vary from tiny to as much as one kilo in weight, while the shape depends largely on the soil they grow in: rounder if the soil is soft, and more irregular with recesses and bulges if they have developed in hard, stony ground. They grow in the wild, and are relatively rare as their growth depends on seasonal and environmental factors. In years when the crop is poor, the price shoots up, making the white truffle the most valuable fruit of the earth in the world. It has a very strong, particular taste, and a decidedly intense smell, with aromatic overtones reminiscent at times of garlic.
The Tuber Melanosporum Black Périgord Truffle ripens between the middle of November and the middle of March, and its harvesting period is fixed each year by the Region. With a black, wart-like outer surface, and an ebony interior with very fine, well-defined, ramified veins, it is generally round and its size varies. Aromatic, with a decidedly appealing and not overly pungent smell, it has a delicate flavour. Considered the most prized black truffle, it grows naturally in woods, especially under oaks, hazels and black hornbeams, but it can also be cultivated.


THE HUNT

The truffle-hunter who sets out in search of the precious tuber with his trusty dog, bags of experience and - he hopes - a dash of good fortune is known in the local dialect as a "trifulau". In order to comply with the law, the trifulaumust have a permit and respect the countryside and private property. When he finds a truffle and "harvests" it, he is obliged to put the sod of earth he has moved carefully back in place. This will both help the fungus to regenerate in future, and leave no interesting clues for other hunters.

HOW TO CHOOSE A QUALITY TRUFFLE

Truffles are assessed using three senses: sight, touch and smell. The visual analysis is not only a question of whether it looks good or not; it evaluates how intact the fruiting body of the truffle is, because an undamaged truffle deteriorates more slowly. Cleanliness is also important, as quite apart from making it look less appealing, any dirt left on the truffle may conceal defects and imperfections. The touch test analyzes the consistency of the truffle: a good specimen should feel just slightly supple and compact, and the skin must be completely dry rather than greasy or oily. The last step is the smell: the aroma of a truffle is made up of a raft of simple sensations of varying intensity and amplitude. And it is this unique, highly appealing smell that has made it such a culinary success.

HOW TO STORE TRUFFLES

A truffle is best kept by wrapping it in a layer of absorbent paper, and placing it in a closed glass or plastic container in the fridge. Make sure the paper remains dry, changing it every day if necessary so that the truffle is not affected by humidity. Truffles should not be vacuum-packed, because they must be allowed to "breathe". The preservation of a truffle depends to a large extent on its type (black truffles are more resistant, while white truffles deteriorate more quickly), and obviously on how fresh the product is.