Let’s admit it, we’re all going gaga again for truffles as November arrives. Gourmet Food Guide has been out talking to specialists and cosying up to cute and wonderful truffle hunting dogs in our quest to uncover some inside tips on truffle selection. Truffles are the diamonds of gastronomy. But, how do you ensure that you’re buying the best quality gastronomic diamond? After all, the successful selection of these sexy little nuggets of exquisite sensory overload require a little more than a discerning nose and deep pockets when truffle season comes around.
Gourmet Food Guide have taken tips from veteran growers in France and Italy to bring you a run down of the basics.
Firstly, you should look for a truffle with an undamaged surface. It should sound solid when you knock it and feel heavy for its size. This means that it hasn’t frozen or lost its moisture.
Inside, it should display a fine lacework of white-on-black veins, as pictured. The less tasty tuber brumale truffle is also white-veined, but the veins are thicker and further apart.
A winter truffle which is matte white inside is unripe. And truffles will not mature further once they’ve been dug out of the ground, so it’s basically useless.
It’s common practice to ask a seller to slice off (canifer) a corner of a truffle with a penknife so that you can inspect the inside – but you won’t be popular at all if you try to do this yourself!
Don’t worry about the waste: the seller won’t throw away the precious off-cut slice, but will save it for a bye-product such as truffle-infused pâté or cheese. A grower might also use scraps or inferior truffles for fertiliser or to prime truffle oak saplings.
In November, you’re likely to find a high proportion (around 30 per cent) of these unripe white truffles. The percentage will decrease as the season goes on.
Truffles, obviously, vary in size: large ones can weigh well over 300 grams / 10.5 ounces. It’s widely considered that most of the flavour is concentrated inside the truffle so, from this point of view, the bigger the better.
On the other hand, truffles are sold whole and never cut in half. Since most private buyers don’t want a huge one, the most popular truffles weigh between 30 and 80 grams / one and three ounces.
Storing truffles Some people grumble that truffles are sold with an extra coating of mud just to increase their weight. But in fact they should not be cleaned until just before use. Rinse them and brush the mud off gently. Truffles should be eaten within a few days of purchase. Keep them in the fridge. It’s possible to freeze truffles but they will lose a lot of their taste.
Like so much about trufficulture, everyone seems to have a passionately held opinion and we heard conflicting, even directly contradictory advice about the best way to store them.
Some recommend wrapping them in a dishcloth and urge against using a sealed jar. Some are also opposed to the common practice of placing the truffles among eggs: “The eggshells soak up all the flavour, and then you throw them away.”
Others disagree completely. “Eggshells are porous and the eggs absorb the aroma,” says one of our favourite French chefs as he fishes a big truffle out of his eggbox to prepare poached eggs with truffle cream for our supper.
Give us your tips and feedback via the comments section and don’t forget to check out our nominations form to nominate a supplier, grower, chef or recipe for these delectable, sexy fungi.