Truffles, of which there are over 70 varieties, may be thought of as underground mushrooms with a unique, pungent flavour. Strongly aromatic, they are eagerly sought after by quality chefs world-wide.
What is a Black Truffle?
Black Truffles have been highly sought after by fine chefs, food lovers and entrepreneurs since they were first discovered in Perigord many centuries ago. The French Black Truffle is the fruiting body of the fungus Tuber Melanosporum that forms a symbiotic relationship with the roots of oak or hazel trees on which it grows. The edible portion, the truffle, is harvested in winter once it has matured and is emitting the sweet perfume it’s renowned for.
The truffles are found from just below the soil surface to a depth of 20 cm by specially trained dogs that use their sensitive noses to search for the truffles. Pigs are still used successfully by the French in Perigord but Australian producers have found spaniels easier to train and control!
A French Black Truffle can vary in size from just two centimetres in diameter to the size of a grapefruit and is covered in small black corrugations similar in texture to a dog’s nose. Its unprepossessing outward appearance belies its sensual appeal and extraordinary culinary value. The Black Truffle has a shelf life of approximately ten days after harvesting before it loses its distinctive taste and aroma.
The Black Truffle offers the best combination of taste and texture with a proven track-record of successful cultivation under Australian conditions. However there is a range of other varieties, some of which look similar, but few of which (excepting the white truffle) have a comparable aromatic or culinary appeal.
Varieties of harvested truffles
Black (Perigord) Winter Truffle (Tuber Melanosporum)
Called the Black Truffle of Perigord, it has a wartish brown epidermis with red reflections. The tuber is marbled with white on anthracite base colour, with an aroma of forest undergrowth and damp earth mingled with roasted dry fruits. The taste can be described as finely peppered and long in the mouth. The Perigord is the finest grade of black truffle.
Summer Truffle (Tuber Aestivum)
This tuber has a similar visual effect to the T. Melanosporum but has a mushroom smell. Not as highly valued as Melanosporum, but fruits earlier in the season allowing restaurants to include fresh truffle on their menus for more of the year.
White (Alba) Truffle (Tuber Magnatum Pico)
Commonly known as the white truffle and is the most prized of all. Found in Italy, Slovenia and Croatia it likes damp but well aerated soils and has not yet been cultivated in the Southern Hemisphere. The outer skin bears a resemblance to a potato which is dirty yellow or stone coloured, yet smooth to touch with a very powerful aroma.
Bianchetta Truffle (Tuber Borchii)
Found in Italy, it is white/brownish outside and dark brown inside, with an aroma and flavour reminiscent of the prestigious Alba white truffle, but less strong and more nutty. It is sometimes called the poor man’s white truffle! Like the Alba white truffle, it tends to be a bit more fragile than black truffles but, if well looked after, will last 1-2 weeks in the fridge. Usually available from Europe January to March.