Vanilla, saffron, and truffles.
What do they have in common, you might wonder? Although both Vanilla and Saffron come from flowers, they all belong to some of the world’s topmost expensive food by weight.
Quality and the country of origin are some of the critical elements to build up the price, but in the case of truffles, the size plays a big part.
In 2014 Sebastiano Tartufi (an Italian truffle company) found the largest ever white truffle, which he flew to NYC and sold at a Sotheby’s auction for $61.250. You might think of giant truffle, but the truth is that the super expensive fungus was only 62.99 oz. ( 1,786 Kg)!
In 2019 the price of “regular truffles” ranged from $ 170/kg for Chinese Black variety to a whopping $ 7541.95/kg for Italian White ones.
Although the most prestigious grow in France and Italy, they can also grow in New Zealand, China, North Africa, the Middle East, and the Pacific Northwest.
But what exactly IS a truffle?
A truffle is a form of mushroom that grows below ground, so it does not have a stem.
They have a symbiotic relationship with certain trees only. They mutually exchange nutrients through the roots: the tree gives nutrients to the fungi. In return, they get mostly water and minerals.
As they are growing under the soil, hence impossible to spread the spores with the wind as common mushrooms, Mother Nature equipped them with an extraordinarily strong smell, once ripe. The pungent aroma will attract insects and mammals that will spread the spore around while digging for their food.
There are mainly three varieties of truffle: white, black, and burgundy.
Black ones are robust and earthy, and they usually get harvested from December to the end of March. The burgundy variety is delicate and fragrant, and they grow from September to December. Finally, the white is intense with a slightly garlicky flavor similar to shallots and mature from October to December.
However, depending on the part of the world and the varieties, the seasonal calendar might differ.
Not all varieties of truffles can be cultivated. The most prestigious species are still picked from the wild, or better literally hunted.
Ready to hunt your food?
La caccia al tartufo! (truffle hunt)
Traditionally the hunt was taking place with pigs; however, they were greedy eaters ( or with an exquisite palate, we might as well say) and not delicate in the process of unearthing.
Since 1985, it became illegal to use pigs in Italy, so dogs replaced them with great success.
The best and irreplaceable truffle-seeking dog is the Lagotto Romagnolo, thanks to its incomparable sense of smell. As the name suggests, it originated in Italy, in the Region of Emilia-Romagna.
Once the dog sniffs a truffle in the wood, it will call the “trifolao” (truffle hunter), who will be digging gently with a “vanghino” (a very specific shovel). Then he will be rearranging the ground gently so that new rootlets will be forming.
Visit Italy in the right season. You can go participate in the hunt by booking a day trip with some leading truffle companies, such as the ones below:
Eating and storage
Truffles are served raw, shaved sparingly over warm, simple food to emphasize its flavor. Also, any cooking process will destroy its aroma and its unique taste.
If you do want to take your cooking to the next level, get hold of some fresh truffles for your kitchen.
First, you will have to make sure you choose a fresh one: it must be firm, and the smell must be pungent and intense.
Cleaning is a delicate process. Soak it first in cold water for about 10 minutes, brush it very gently with a special truffle brush, and remove any leftover soil. Never, ever peel it!
Main courses with truffles, such as Risotto or any pasta dish, are probably the most famous. However, this unique fungus is so versatile that it enriches any dish from appetizer to dessert!
Any leftover should be preserved in the fridge, well wrapped in absorbent paper, and stored in a plastic o glass container, up to 5 days.
You could also opt for truffle-infused oil in your recipes to add that unique fragrance to your dishes without using the fresh mushroom. Find a great example in our Pasta alla Boscaiola, served with a creamy white sauce, Italian sausage, mushrooms, Parmigiano Reggiano, and then topped with truffle oil.
If fresh ones are not available close by, or you are not in the right season, you can always try preserved ones or products such as truffle salt or truffle oil.
Curious to give your tastebuds a try?
Try our delicious Pizza Tartufo or Pasta alla Boscaiola!
Both dishes include top quality truffle oil: only one mouthful and your taste buds will get you to travel to those mystical Italian woods on a truffle hunt.