Other Names: Winter black truffle: Black diamond; Perigord truffle; tartufo nero pregiato (Italian); truffe noir du Périgord (French). White truffle: Alba truffle; Piedmontese truffle; tartufo bianco di Alba (Italian). Summer truffle: Grey truffle; March truffle; red-grained black truffle; scorzone (Italian); truffe de la Saint-Jean (French).

General Description: Truffles are a highly aromatic, underground-fruiting fungus species in the genus Tuber. These mysterious, costly, and delicate fungi may be eaten whole, but normally, because of their high cost and concentrated flavor, they’re used as a seasoning. Both white and black truffles range from marble to fist sized and are warty and rounded, though irregular in shape. Truffles are hunted by female pigs in France or dogs in Italy.

The prized winter black truffle (Tuber melanosporum), found in France’s Perigord region, is dense and shiny with an enticing and unmistakable earthy aroma. Their flavor is enhanced by gentle cooking, and they are essential to pâté de foie gras truffé_. The Italian winter black truffle (_T. magnatum Vitt.) has blackish wrinkled skin that is less rough than that of its French cousin. Its flesh is deep violet scored with fine white veins and tinged reddish brown at the edge. It is spread on crostini and is essential to spaghetti alla Norcina.

The rare white truffle (T. magnatum Pico), found in Italy’s Piedmont and Umbria regions, has a pungent, ineffable, somewhat garlicky aroma. Its skin is smooth and yellowish and its interior ranges from cream to fawn with white veins, according to its maturity. This white “diamond of the table” grows at great depth and is always expensive. Normally walnut to orange size, in exceptional cases white truffles can be much larger. Their potent flavor is fragile and best enjoyed by shaving paper-thin slices raw onto eggs, pasta, and risotto just before serving.

Summer black truffles (T. aestivum), popular in French and Italian cooking, are found in abundance, and while not as highly prized as the winter truffle, have resinous flavor and good aroma with thicker, less fragile skin. They’re commonly used to produce truffle oils, pasta, creams, pâté, cheeses, and liqueurs.

Bianchetti truffles (T. albidum Pico_) are the smallest of the truffles and grow under pine trees. Their sharp taste is mellowed when mixed with oil or butter. Desert truffles (Terfezia boudieri_) are a seasonal delicacy found and eaten after winter rains in North Africa and the Middle East. Small and light, they are sliced and fried, made into soup, or added to lamb stew. Oregon truffles (T. gibbosum) are small white truffles that grow in association with Douglas fir trees. Chinese truffles (T. himalayensis) may be passed off by unscrupulous dealers as the black French truffles they resemble in appearance but not flavor.

Season: Truffle seasons vary from year to year. All but summer truffles are generally available in colder months.

Purchase and Avoid: Because of their high price and the potential for fraud, always purchase truffles, especially fresh ones, from reliable dealers. Choose firm, aromatic winter black truffles with thin white veins running throughout. Summer black truffles will be less expensive and less aromatic, though firmer and less perishable. Choose white truffles that are light in color, fairly smooth, and hard, never soft or sticky. White and black truffle oils vary greatly in quality; the best is made by cold infusion. Truffles may also be found bottled in many forms, frozen, as a paste, sliced, as a flour, in vinegar, and in flavored oils, though some of these may be flavored artificially.

Storage: Fresh truffles are quite perishable and are best kept refrigerated in a closed container, immersed in brandy if desired, to help preserve the truffle. White truffles are very delicate and should be used within 10 days of harvest. Wrap in a paper towel, place in a closed jar, and refrigerate, changing the towel every day. Summer truffles will keep for 3 weeks after harvest if refrigerated. Store truffle oil in a cool, dark place, or refrigerate; avoid repeated chilling and warming. Truffles can be frozen, though they lose their firmness after thawing.

Preparation: To clean truffles, use a soft brush and carefully clean off any mold or dirt and pat dry with a paper towel. Cut away any moldy or soft bits. Black truffles are often peeled, with the peelings saved for sauces. Don’t wash white truffles; simply rub them clean.

Serving Suggestions: Insert thin wedges of black truffle under the skin of a chicken and store it overnight in the refrigerator before roasting. Serve beef carpaccio dressed with fine olive oil and shaved truffles. Garnish risotto with shaved fresh white truffles or a drizzle of white truffle oil.

Food Affinities: Anchovy, artichoke, beet, brandy, butter, cardoon, celery, foie gras, garlic, haricots verts, mushroom, olive oil, veal.

from Quirk Books: