Truffles: What Makes the Diamond of Cuisine so Special?

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.

Black and white truffles
Black and white truffles

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

A Perigord truffle (Tuber melanosporum), known as the black diamond, being dug out of the ground
an untrained eye might miss this well-disguised truffle among the dirt, rocks, and leaves.

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.

Truffle in Jar
Storing a truffle in air tight jars such as these impart flavors but also preserve.

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. Th