High quality ingredients has taken over the FoodTube market by storm. Caviar, wagyu beef, organic home grown produce, fancy foraged foods and DIY pickles and jams, the cutest teacakes, it all entices viewers and gourmands alike. Yet one food, revered as it is, remains almost untouchable to a typical person. That diamond of cuisine is the humble truffle, one of the most expensive and elusive ingredients on the market.
What is a truffle, exactly?
Truffles are essentially a species of fungus that grow underground in a symbiotic relationship with trees. They're rather small, have a soft give to them when pressure is applied, with textures that range from lumpy to coarse externally to a smooth or marbled interior, with sizes ranging from a golf to tennis ball. The colors aren't too varied; ivory white, burgundy, black, and creamy colored; yet their use to enhance meals with earthy, pungent, and even gamy flavors and aromas remains the same. While still considered “a mushroom” they do not look or taste like the mushrooms we've seen in supermarkets. Despite that, opinions are very much the same: Truffles are a love it or hate it delicacy.
Truffles are considered a delicacy because of their scarcity. They're to obtain if not cultivate and require high effort and years of time or experience. With flavors that are robust and unique, but risk being overpowering, it's regarded as a choice ingredient for the experienced chefs and cooks. Truffle flavored products have seen a rise in production to increase availability to the regular shopper. The result is the demand is high and the supply is low, with no way to expedite the process more than we have already.
Pricey Purchase Factors: Cultivation and Distribution of Truffles
It's presumed that truffles were found by humans when foraging for food. Once it was noticed that the truffles grew underground by hardwood trees, like oaks for example, people began to collect them as a staple foodsource. Traditionally, pigs were used for this task. The sows (female pigs) were able to locate these truffles because the scent that they emit is apparently identical to porcine pheromones; they literally smelled like pigs on a subconscious level and momma pig went looking for them. When the sow found the truffle and learned it was indeed not another pig but instead food, it was dug up and promptly eaten
1. These pigs actually wound up damaging the mycelia and lower the production rate of truffles in certain areas of Italy for years to the point that it became prohibited in the 1980's 2. Dogs began to be trained to handle this job instead; they didn't eat the truffles nor attempt to dig them up, had a keen sense of smell, and were trained to find them above ground instead.
Just like foraging for truffles, cultivating them also expertise and time, and we mean a lot of time is used to even have a proper cultivation yield. Truffles can take anywhere from seven to ten years until they're large enough to be harvested.3 Even then, the harvesting season is short: only about 2 months of the year, even though the trees can produce the truffles for about a decade. Which months for the harvesting depend on the truffle itself. They're also very temperamental with climate and soil.
Truffles are also temperamental with how they are stored. Once the truffle is dug up the unique odors that are a major contributor to the taste begin to fade. You have about a week before the flavor is completely gone and the truffle has spoiled so try to use it in a few days. In between uses many folks like to store their truffles in a sealed container of uncooked rice, or sometimes eggs, to prevent moisture loss and a soggy texture. Be aware that your rice will have residual truffle flavors when used!
Price Point: Truffles are and worth Diamonds
With the cultivation taking at least ten years if you're successful, the patience to training animals to forage properly, and the temperamental nature of the myclia itself thanks to climate change, truffles are scarce and are thereby used sparingly in cooking. There's been an increased demand with truffles in haute cuisine to make the restaurants food stand out among the competition. Also truffles are being used with infused condiments, salts, and oils; people used to buy truffle oils that didn't actually contain any truffles at all, but now savvy shoppers are more aware and spreading the word of artificial flavinoids versus the real-deal truffles-included appeal. Considering the time-sink that is truffle cultivation, meeting the global demand has increased cultivation to meet 70% of that.5 Imagine what that does to supply and demand principles with price when a global market is expected to exceed $6 billion! Take a look at this price tracker below and compare it to the cost of some 1 – 2 karat diamonds. Talk about fancy!
Flavors and Texture – The Taste of a Delicacy
Rice from storage isn't the only way to taste truffles. While these beautiful nuggets are rarely cooked due to changing the texture and losing aroma, people can enjoy them shaved over foods such as risottos, pizzas, pasta dishes, caviar, and even sashimi! They impart a major umami profile, carrying the gamy, earthy and pungent, sometimes garlicy flavors with them. Because they're shaved or slivered over foods, as if a topping, the main components of the dish are not overpowered. These dishes tend to be more expensive than their truffle-free companions. Other ways to taste the truffle flavors are infused in oils, minced and mixed into flavored butters, and even used in the filtration of vodka (that's going to be a very expensive shot!). These items are used when producing other foods, including the truffle chips in the next Read it & Eat box by Bookmarks & Breadsticks.
Is a Truffle Worth the Price?
All things considered, truffles are the result of labor and love; and a boatload of patience. Their high in demand especially with the dawn of internet gourmands, but their supply remains lower than it used to be due to climate change and difficulty of cultivation since foraging is considered a specialty skill. It's unfortunate that they spoil so fast, or that they must be used promptly; leading to haute cuisine restaurants having a supplier on head to readily replenish their wares.
The folks, much like myself, who cannot fathom to afford truffles any time soon (even the small jars full of shavings that you can buy in jars), are sufficed by buying truffle infused condiments, oils, butters, and flavored snacks much like the food items in the Bookmarks & Breadsticks Read it and Eat Box. We have items by small business owners including the truffle carpaccio by TruffleShuffle. I'd say truffles are worth the buy, especially so if you look into the Read it and Eat box so you can have some tastes of quality products at exclusive prices (this is for a limited time, by the way!). But if you're someone to shy away from the pungent, earthy, dominating umami bomb of flavors, mayhaps you'd be best spending money elsewhere.
Each to their own, bite for bite.
Damien Baghez of Long Island, New York, tends to view food as flavor landscape rather than a bomb of calories. Fantasy and food fuel their passion and are usually the root for all of their projects. A key principle in the kitchen for Damien is that “all food can be made delicious, you just have to figure out how”. In their free time you'll catch Damian in the kitchen trying out a recipe they found online (even if it means too many leftovers), playing the next video game on their never-ending list, or snuggling down with their partner over a cup of tea and a good talk about the last anime they binged together.