One of the most costly ingredients in the world, black truffles are also known as the “black diamond” of cuisine. Savoury, earthy, and rich in flavour: they are praised by connoisseurs and have a place of choice on the menu of the top gastronomic restaurants in the world.
These highly coveted jewels originate from the lands of Perigord, a southern region of France. Between origins, traditions and recipes, venture through secretive rural territories and dive into the history of these culinary treasures worth their weight in gold.
What is a truffle?
First, let’s start with some biology notions. Black truffle is an underground fungus that is interdependent on 3 key elements for survival and growth: the soil, the climate and the host. The particularity of truffles is to grow only on chalky, shallow, and well-drained soils. These conditions are very hard to recreate, which is why they are nearly impossible to cultivate and are so rare in the first place.
The truffle thrives and develops from the sugars it draws from the tree. In return, the fungus boosts the ability of the tree to absorb mineral salts and water from the soil. This mutually beneficial relationship, called symbiosis, is a widespread process in nature.
What does a truffle look like?
Black truffles range widely in size, shape, taste and smell. They can reach up to 10 cm (4 inches) in diameter with a lumpy, round, and rough exterior. Their colour ranges from brown-black to dark brown or to gray-black.
The truffle texture is silky smooth with a spongy black marbled white veining. Its musky yet pungent aroma with notes of garlic, nuts and cacao will enhance your pallet and offer you an unforgettable culinary experience.
Truffle comes from the Latin word “tuber,” meaning outgrowth. As early as ancient Egypt, royals and noble classes used to eat truffles dipped in goose fat and blended with spices. The Greeks and Romans then used truffles for therapeutic purposes, which were coveted for enhancing health in both the body and soul. However, throughout the Middle Ages, truffles disappeared from French cuisine. Why? The church once marked truffles as a creation of the devil due to their exotic taste and thus virtually eliminated them from popular culture.
During the Renaissance, truffles reappeared under the reign of Louis XIV, who was fascinated by them. He pushed black truffles to become Europe’s most respected and coveted dish. Production peaked by the middle of the XIXth century, but unfortunately, this period of abundance did not last long. Indeed, the first world war destroyed many of the lands favourable to truffle growth. Black truffles became a scarce and coveted resource, hence their exceptionally high price (up to 2000 CAD/kg). Nowadays, truffles are still a rare delicacy reserved for the most special occasions.
2/3 of the world’s black truffles are produced in France. Vaucluse is the most dynamic harvesting area, although one can also find truffles in Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, Drôme, Gard, Lot and Perigord. However, France is not the only place where you have a chance of finding truffles. Other regions like Italy and the Pacific Northwest are also favourable to their growth.
How to find truffles?
Quite possibly the most unique aspect of harvesting black truffles is that it is almost impossible for humans to find them on their own. They usually rely on the exceptional olfaction of trained pigs or dogs to spot them. If you still want to go on a truffles hunt, there are a few tips to maximize your chances:
- Truffles thrive in moist soil, so you should pay attention to areas where the ground is often damp. It is believed that the best time to search is around 10 to 14 days after heavy rainfall. For black truffles, the high season to harvest them is between December and March.
- Remember that truffles rely on an interaction with trees for their growth. We often find them around the base of oaks, hazels, lindens and sweet chestnuts, so that is where you should be looking at.
- Look carefully for signs of truffle growth. If truffles are present, a "browning" effect gives the soil a burnt aspect since they release chemical compounds preventing vegetation from growing.
- Once you find a spot susceptible to host truffles, start carefully digging. Truffles are usually 1 to 6 inches (2.5 to 15.2 cm) deep in the soil.
How to cook truffles?
If you were lucky enough to find a truffle, you might now wonder what to do with it. Once harvested, the strength of the truffle flavour naturally decreases over time, so eating them within a few days is recommended. Fresh truffles should not be cooked since they could lose their unique flavour. Avoid combining them with strong ingredients, or the truffle flavour will also be lost. Instead, slice them thin with a special truffle slicer and add them as a final touch to your favourite pasta, rice, or egg dishes.
Most Popular Pairings
The unique and powerful taste of truffles offers an infinity of possibilities to integrate them into delicious recipes. From classic pâtés to fancy chocolates, here are some of the most famous recipes with truffles.
Truffled foie gras
You are probably familiar with foie gras, this french spread made of duck liver. Foie gras can be infused with the delicious flavour of truffles and simply spread on small toasts. It is generally reserved for special occasions, especially Christmas and New Year’s Eve.
Pâté is another famous French spread that can be made with various types of meats, condiments, and sometimes truffles! Typically served with thick-sliced traditional bread, it is the perfect ingredient for an easy and convivial meal.
Looking for an easy recipe to impress your guests with black truffles? Look no further! You can incorporate truffles into scrambled eggs. Break the eggs into a bowl, add the truffle previously cut into small dices and add some cream. Let the mix sit for 10 minutes in the refrigerator so that the truffle flavour can infuse. Once ready, cook the eggs as usual and serve them on toasted brioche bread. You can also add a little garlic and parmesan for a richer culinary experience.
For the ones with a sweet tooth, step outside your comfort zone with desserts like a truffled crême brûlée, mousse au chocolat, tiramisu, or île flottante. French chef Jean-Louis Palladin even developed a recipe for black truffle ice cream.
Black truffles are one of the most precious jewels of gastronomy. Particularly appreciated by French chefs, they developed unique recipes to celebrate their intense flavour. But truffles are not the only highlights of French cuisine. Browse our shop for more traditional and famous French products that could be on your table for your next celebration! You can also check other articles on our blog, like the Tarte Tatin recipe or the story behind the iconic canelé.