Everyone knows that truffles are one of the most desirable culinary ingredients in the world, but what’s the difference between the different varieties of truffles? Why do their prices fluctuate wildly? How do they vary in looks, taste, aroma, and intensity?
Firstly, while there are about 10 different types of edible truffles, black and white truffles are the ones you’ll encounter most frequently on menus. The region in which these subterranean funghi grow can vary, but they’re historically found in France and Italy (though many countries are attempting the difficult task of cultivating truffles nowadays).
The process of growing and harvesting a truffle is time-consuming, costly, and unpredictable. It takes about 10 years for truffles to fully mature, and truffle hunters must use professionally trained dogs to sniff them out. As a natural and wild product, even with precisely the right conditions, truffle harvests are never a guarantee. While the annual yield is never certain, it is almost never enough to satisfy worldwide demand!
Let’s start with the more easily found and thus more affordable black truffle, of which there are several species. Many black truffles hail from France – and the region of Périgord in particular – but they’re also hunted and cultivated in other countries throughout Europe. Italy in particular is able to produce seven different types of black truffles across nearly all of its regions. Black truffles grow underground and often attach themselves to the roots of oak or hazelnut trees, growing for years before they are harvested in the months from May to December.
Australia, the US, and China have also farmed different types of black truffles with limited success by planting “truffle orchards” with the right types of trees, soil conditions, irrigation, and truffle fungus. But the process still takes many years, and there’s no certainty that truffles will take hold and grow to a usable, edible size.
Black truffles are typically less intense than their white counterparts, but they still impart a distinct umami taste to dishes. With a dark exterior, they have a nutty, woody flavour and a strong, often pungent aroma. Because they are generally more prevalent across the world, black truffles are also less costly, and they can often be found minced or chopped up in small jars with oil.
While there are many varieties of black truffles, Zest & Zing has selected theTuber aestivum vitt – also known as the “summer truffle” – for our sumptuousblack truffle oil andsea salt. Found across Europe, the summer truffle is a favorite among chefs because of its chocolate-colored interior which exudes a subtle, nutty flavour and aroma. Also known as the Scorzone truffle, its taste has been described as slightly sweet and reminiscent of hazelnuts. Because of their delicate taste, summer truffles shouldn’t be cooked because the heat will destroy their essential truffle flavours.
White truffles are on a different level entirely. Found in northern Italy, these are the rarest and most expensive of all truffles. The white truffle orTuber magnatum pico is often known as the Alba or Piedmont truffle, named after the city and region in which it is harvested. These culinary gems, which actually look like tiny, smelly potatoes, are celebrated across the world for their elusive flavours and intoxicating fragrance.
If you’re ever in a restaurant that offers tableside truffle shavings or a “truffle supplement,” the fresh white truffle is typically what you’ll get. These truffles have a firm, knobby flesh with a cream-coloured exterior and white marbling. In terms of taste, they are earthy, nutty, woody, garlicky, shallot-like, and incredibly pungent. White truffles are the most coveted of all because of their deep fragrance and powerful flavour, and of course, because of their rarity.
Unlike black truffles, white truffles have proven impossible to domesticate. These rare Italian truffles are sourced through foraging. Sometimes called the “winter white truffle” due to its short harvest season from October to December, these mysterious wild funghi grow beneath the earth on oak, hazelnut, chestnut, and hornbeam tree roots. Truffle-hunting dogs aren’t able to locate them until they are ready, when they begin emitting their distinctive scent.
Every year, chefs, restaurants, and people across the globe vie for the rights to purchase Italy’s biggest and best white truffle finds, paying thousands for the chance to shave them over delectable plates of food. Due to the unpredictability of the harvest, white truffle prices fluctuate wildly from year to year. In 2018, white truffles were priced between €2,000 to €2,500 per kilogram due to a surprising bumper crop in Italy, whereas in 2017, the price was more like €4,000 and €5,000 per kilo!
Zest & Zing makes this luxury more attainable by incorporating the famous Alba truffle into ourwhite truffle olive oil and award-winningwhite truffle sea salt. Made in Italy, just a bit will elevate and transform even the simplest dish into something divine.