The fungus kind, not the chocolate kind. The first problem with them is they're so damned expensive, AND so damned addictive! I LOVE them! I cannot afford them! But maybe the rules of horseshoes can work in the world of food? Let's shoot for "close."
Canned truffles are a big problem. The very act of preserving them with heat greatly diminishes their flavor and aroma. Bummer. Fresh truffles are seasonal, not to mention pricey, and shipping can be "iffy." So that leaves truffle salts and truffle oils. And I didn't know a thing about either when I started down this path. I did read all I could lay my eyes on, but that's not the same as trying things out first hand. So I set about giving them both a shot.
Truffle oils are a little scary, depending on who and what you read. Some say, ooh, they're made with the "essence" of truffles, and not "real" truffles. Well, for the life of me, I can't figure out what that means. To me, the "essence" of something is a concentration of all that is good about it, so what could be wrong with essence of truffle? Darned if I know! For me, the greater problem comes with the type of oil that is infused with the truffle essence or flavor. I don't think a highly flavorful olive oil makes a whole lot of sense. So a neutral oil is probably the best choice, I would think. After lots and lots of reading, I went with an oil from Truffle Hunter, in the UK. It's a family run business, and they write like they know what they're talking about. I bought 100ml of their English Truffle Oil. Hey, they don't offer any French Perigord truffle oil, so there wasn't a lot of wiggle room. I considered a couple of other truffle oils, but a bad review or two on amazon.com pushed me this direction. I'll get back to this later.
Truffle salt is fairly straight forward. Small bits of truffle are mixed in with salt and the aroma and flavor bloom. I wish I could find a source to buy the small bits of dried truffle they put in the salt because logic says that would give me a way to concentrate more truffle flavor without adding more salt, but alas, I haven't found a source. So based on that, it is obvious that using a less salty salt is the better way to fly. So far, I have bought three different truffle salts. One was from WorldSpice, a spice source I am extremely fond of and the source for most of my spice needs, but they dropped the ball on this one. Seriously! The salt is way too salty. Fine table salt. And the truffles are way too un-truffley. I tasted it and gave it away, with instructions that if the friend doesn't like it, toss it! The other two truffle salts I've bought are Fusion brand truffled sea salt, and Dalla Terra, They are both products of Italy (French truffle salt is extremely difficult to find for some reason), and the Fusion only says "black truffle," while the Dalla Terra says "black summer truffle." The general consensus is that winter truffles are far superior to summer truffles, but once again, if they're available on the market, I couldn't find them!
So now to my point. My personal opinion is that truffle oil is not worth bothering with. I might give it one more shot with another brand, but I am not at all impressed with my experience so far. The flavor is easily lost, as is the case with many "finishing oils" in my experience. They tend to be easily washed away or overcome by other ingredients, so I'm not holding a lot of hope of finding any truffle magic in that direction.
Truffle salt is another matter. In my experience they are superior to bottled or jarred truffles simply because they retain and give off more of the truffle "vitality" that is so lacking in canned truffles. Of the two brands I have used, both are good, but the Dalla Terra is the best of the two. And that was a bit of a surprise because upon opening the jar and examining it, the salt grains were much finer than the Fusion salt, and I assumed it would mean it would be saltier and less "truffley." Boy, was I wrong! It is pungent, and it will let you know that truffles are present! Or at the very least, the spirit of truffles. I have found that adding it to a simple button mushroom duxelle really expands the illusion of rich full truffle experience. Hey, a few lies from the kitchen never hurt anyone! Well, let's just call them "illusions," not lies. Okay?
And just for the record, I also found out a bit more about my personal preferences for steak while investigating truffle oil versus truffle salt. I sous vied a couple of tenderloins at 56C for around 4 hours, then used a torch to char one and seared the other in a cast iron pan. Somehow, I had never gotten around to testing those two methods of finishing a sous vide steak side by side for comparison before now. What I learned was that, in my experience, the pan searing toughened the steak while the torch searing left it nice and tender, plus it adds more flavor than the cast iron pan could come up with. I used truffle oil on parts of each steak, and truffle salt on the others. Truffle salt rules!
With the possible exceptions of strawberries and other fresh fruits, I can't think of much that a little truffle salt won't make better. I just can't make up my mind if I want to try it on strawberries.... hmmm.... Probably not. But hey, for a fried egg sandwich that makes your taste buds dance, try frying the egg in rendered beef fat, then sprinkling it with a dash of truffle salt, put it on some thick sliced sour dough bread with a light touch of aioli and you've got lunch..! It's really nice to know I can enjoy the rich aromatic experience of truffles any time I like, and no longer have to wait for fancy holiday dinners. Not only that, now I get better truffle flavor than I ever got from jars of imported and expensive truffles. Life is good! '-)
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