Truffles – the black diamond of fine dining and for the most prestigious culinary luminaries

24-01-2017
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Spotlight on the ultimate member of the mushroom family and the near-sacred ingredient of the Michelin-starred chef fraternity.

Truffles continue to scintillate palates of the most discerning gastronomes and maintain their reputation not only thanks to their rarity value, but also for their remarkably refined flavours.

Truffles are mushrooms that develop as a result of the perfect symbiotic relationship between a tree and its surrounding soils. When mature, and ready to be foraged, the truffle reveals its spherical, often black, sponge-like appearance. Both wild and cultivated truffles are found, though it is the former that are the most sought-after in exclusive gastronomic circles. There are many different truffle species in France, and all very similar in appearance.

Truffles are found mainly in southeastern France where Drome, Vaucluse and Alpes de Haute-Provence are the main French departments which account for 80% of production. Alpes de Haute-Provence is also home to some of the finest truffle markets in France, in Carpentras and Richerenches. Truffles are also foraged in Languedoc-Roussillon, Midi-Pyrenées and Dordogne. In Lozère, wild truffles are foraged on the Causse limestone plateau and truffles gathered by specialist farmers known as truffficulteurs. 

In the Dordogne, the Black Perigord truffle is the most well known. Eastern France is home to the Tuber Uncinatum, otherwise known as the Champagne or Burgundy truffle, depending on its provenance, or the Burgundy black diamond. Truffles are also found in Lorraine. Total annual production in France over the last decade has been around 30 tonnes (Source: FranceAgrimer).

Where to look for truffles

Truffles only grow under certain trees, including oak, hazel, lime tree and hornbeam. They are foraged by special dogs or pigs. While truffle season in France lasts only 3 months, from August to October, it is possible to find certain species of truffles at high altitudes from December onwards, such as the Burgundy truffle.

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Truffles: flavour enhancers extraordinaire

Truffles can be used in cooking when fully ripe, when their aromas reveal their full potential. They can be served raw, sliced or grated, in salads or in foie gras. Their delicate, distinctive flavours add a new twist to well-known recipes such as speciality sausage or black pudding, mushroom risotto, pasta and gnocchi, or to flavour meat dishes, either in stuffing or to accompany roasts and poultry.

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Truffle oil recipe

Basic olive oil or grape seed oil work best. Clean and dry the fresh truffle. Slice very thinly and transfer to a glass storage jar. Cover the truffle with olive oil taking care not to totally drown in too much oil. Allow the truffle to infuse for several hours. Black truffles infuse really well and the oil will take on its distinctive character very quickly. It is advisable to store the oil in the fridge if not used within 6 days. To fully appreciate its flavours, sautée potatoes and drizzle with truffle oil before serving.

Did you know?

If you happen to visit Paris and are in the mood for truffles, two establishments in particular stand out for their truffle selection. La Maison de la Truffe is still an iconic address in place de la Madeleine, and has promoted truffles since 1932. A second Maison de la Truffe in rue Marbeuf sells take-away snacks such as black truffle hot dogs (19€), pastrami and black truffle mini-burgers (€19.50) and even summer truffle ravioli with truffle cream (€12.50).