Fall brings us many of the best food smells, from steamy apple ciders to pumpkin pies to—if you have a taste and budget for luxury—truffles. While there are many different kinds of truffles, only a handful are safe for human consumption. Of those edible options, the most prized species are European white truffles and black winter truffles.
Where exactly are they from?
White truffles, a.k.a. Tuber magnatum, hail from Italy’s Piedmont region (think northwest corner of the boot, bordering France and Switzerland) and parts of Croatia, while the black truffle (formally known as Tuber melanosporum) grows in France. Even though truffles have also been discovered and cultivated all over the world, from New Zealand to the Pacific Northwest, these two European varieties have held onto their reputations as the most transcendent and flavorful. That may be due to the fact that Europe is a uniquely qualified breeding ground for this fussy fungus. Truffles only grow around the roots of certain types of trees and require a particular climate to thrive. Furthermore, they like a chalky soil with a specific pH level—a terrain that’s native to Europe but that often has to be manipulated elsewhere.
When are they harvested?
White truffle season spans September through December, hitting its peak in October and November. The season for black winter truffles is later, from December to February. Other species of black truffles, which are still used in cooking, though thought to be less luxurious, are harvested during the summer.
Which is more expensive?
This title goes to the “white diamond,” which costs hundreds of dollars per ounce. In fact, we even found white truffles for sale on Amazon! If you’re willing to drop $195, you can snag one ounce of Italian white truffle (shipping and truffle slicer included).
On the other hand, you can get yourself an ounce of black truffle for a cool $73.50.
Why the price difference?
White truffles are more fragrant and flavorful. In fact, they’re so aromatic that they’re almost always shaved raw on top of dishes, a scene that will soon play out in high-end restaurants all over the world. On the other hand, some light cooking can help coax the maximum flavor out of black truffles.
Which one is used to make truffle oil?
Neither! We hate to break it to you, but there’s nothing natural about this now-ubiquitous condiment. Instead it’s made by combining olive oil with a chemical compound that’s designed to mimic the smell of truffles. So sadly, if the scent of truffle oil conjures images of Italian families roaming the countryside with their truffle-sniffing dogs, think again. The more accurate image is chemists in a lab!
The bad news about cooking with real truffles is that it’s going to cost you. But the good news is that it’s relatively easy since it’s best to pair truffles with simple dishes that are willing to cede the spotlight.
Create the five-star restaurant experience in the comfort of your own home. This simple risotto lets the truffle topping shine. Get the recipe.
Like risotto, pasta is a classic match for the treasured tubers. Truffles make this 5-ingredient dish both easy and unforgettable. Get the recipe.
The final step in this white pizza recipe calls for baking the truffle toppings for 5 minutes. A bit of heat is sure to bring out the maximum amount of flavor. Get the recipe.
You’ll only need four ingredients to whip up this swoon-worthy appetizer! Get the recipe.
So maybe it’s not the real thing. But if it makes eating your veggies more pleasurable, truffle oil might have a place in your kitchen cabinet! Get the recipe.
Header image by Chowhound, using images from Marx Foods and Maggio Olive Oil.