Truffles | PHOTO BY DAVID HAMMOND
Updated: March 7, 2014 1:23PM
Truffle is to mushroom as wine is to grape juice: in the same family, but clearly different.
The truffle is usually wild and always expensive. It also has a haunting perfume, with a taste so unusual and captivating that some are persuaded to shell out more than $3,000 a pound for them.
Last spring I went truffle hunting in Italy’s Marche region with Gilberto, an amiable country geezer, and his dog, Gina. It was as close to a treasure hunt as I’ve ever experienced. Maddeningly challenging to find, truffles’ elusiveness undoubtedly contributes to their allure.
My dad once sampled truffles and declared, “Tastes like motor oil.” Many truffles do have a petroleum-like aroma; nonetheless, they are treasured. Frank Brunacci, formerly chef at Sixteen, now imports Australian truffles (available at wineandtruffle.com). When my shipment arrived, I was shaking a little when I opened the box to find six bulbous fungi staring back at me. Having so many “black diamonds” was intoxicating.
In the past, we’ve shaved truffle over pasta, raw. That’s a classic way of serving them; honestly, though, you could do better.
Consider the difference between a raw mushroom and one that’s slightly cooked: you taste the cooked one better. Warmth releases flavor.
Now, few recipes recommend cooking truffles. They are delicate creatures; cut them too far in advance, and they will dry out; even slight heat must be applied gingerly.
If you’re fortunate enough to get a truffle, here’s how you can prepare it to extract every last bit of fungal essence:
1. Whip a few eggs
2. Slice truffle just before adding to eggs
3. Cook in butter over extremely low heat
— David Hammond