The first thought that may come to your mind after hearing the word “truffle” is perhaps the image of a small, circular-shaped ball of rich chocolate and heavy cream. These chocolate truffles, however, play second fiddle to real deal truffles: the expensive, gnarled fungi that is a delicacy the world over. In fact, chocolate truffles received their name from black truffles. Want to know why these truffles are so high-priced and why they taste so exotic? Keep reading.
What are Black Truffles?
Black truffles or black Périgord truffles (Tuber melanosporum) are technically mushrooms; they grow under large deciduous trees and are notoriously difficult to find. They are among the most admired ingredients and are cherished by chefs and home cooks around the world for their exquisite flavor. They are dark brown in color and round in shape. Since black truffles grow in the regions of Perigord and Provence in France, they are also known as the “Black Diamond of Perigord”. These truffles have a strong earthy flavor and a rich, powerful aroma capable of turning any ordinary dish into something magnificently luxurious.
Where Do the Black Truffles Grow?
Black truffles grow under different varieties of trees that have large shady leaves like oak, hazelnut, and hornbeam. They are located on grasslands and airy forests, where they are exposed to sunlight and a good airflow – ideal conditions for their growth. They’re harvested in late autumn and fall and are available during the cold months of November through March.
What Do Black Truffles Taste Like?
In terms of flavor, black truffles are far less pungent, having a more refined taste than white truffles. They taste like fresh earth and mushrooms, however, it takes a highly developed palate to fall in love with their unique everchanging flavor in your mouth.
On top of the flavor, they give off an oniony, fruity, and somewhat chocolaty scent that diffuses into the surroundings quite instantly.
Why are they so expensive?
In the 18th century, Brillat-Savarin, the French politician and writer called black truffles, “the diamond of the kitchen” in his book “The Physiology of Taste”. That’s because finding and harvesting black truffles requires a lot of labor. Not only are they hard to find, but they also thrive in natural habitats, and are only harvested after around 7 years. This makes them a luxury ingredient, and hence quite expensive.
Culinary Uses of Black Truffles
Black truffles are popular in French, Northern Italian, and international Haute cuisines, where they are used to improve the flavor of an array of dishes. Since truffles are expensive and have a strong aroma, they are used sparingly. The fine shavings from black truffles are usually sprinkled over steaming buttered pasta, egg dishes, and salads.
They are also sometimes added to fat-rich recipes like whole skin-on roasted chicken and exotic sauces like the popular truffle cream sauce which is topped over pasta dishes. You can try using sliced or shredded black truffles in the following recipes to turn them into gourmet meals:
● Creamy Mushroom and Wild Rice Soup
● Buffalo Sauce and Blue Cheese Potato Skins
Contrary to the white truffles, black truffles taste better when they are slightly cooked. Their flavor and appetizing scent come out deliciously well when they are sauteed with minimum ingredients so as not to overpower their true flavor.
Feature Image: Flickr user ulterior epicure ( CC BY-NC-ND 2.0 )