Black Truffles or Black Perigord Truffles (Tuber melanosporum) are underground mushrooms which grow in symbiosis with certain trees, especially oaks. During a limited harvesting season, they are found in several regions of southern Europe, France, Italy and Spain. Black Truffles are highly valued by gourmets for their typical flavour, and
are often called black diamonds. A number of varieties exist, but the Black Truffles of Perigord and Lot in France are highly esteemed as the absolute finest in the world.
Black Truffles are highly aromatic, pungent and will even penetrate eggs stored next to them, changing their taste. The flavour of Black Truffles is far less pungent and more refined than that of white truffles. It is reminiscent of fresh earth and mushrooms, and when fresh, their scent fills a room almost instantly. In 2006, designer Tom Ford released a perfume that lists Black Truffle as its first note.
The Black Truffle has a thick, smooth to wrinkled outer skin, somewhat rough in texture and is greyish-black in colour with small diamond-shaped projections. It can be found in late autumn and winter, reaching up to 7 cm in diameter and weighing 10 - 100g though most are at the lower end of the weight scale. Large truffles cost more because they are rare. They grows on the roots of truffle oaks usually in a circular formation about 1.5 metres from the base of the oak tree, often at less than 30 cm below the surface. Some have white veins but most are very black. To date, cultivating Black Truffles has met with limited success but is being pursued in several countries, including Australia and New Zealand. Moderately humid climates are best for truffle oaks which thrive on soil rich in limestone, with good drainage.
Their harvesting is a delicate and always uncertain operation. Because truffles remain underground even after maturing, the acute sense of smell of certain animals is required to find them. Their growth beneath the earth's surface is thought to be an adaptation to forest fires, drought, or severe cold, where the mushrooms on the surface of the soil
are more prone to destruction. Traditionally pigs were used to locate truffles but they have mostly been replaced by dogs. The fine sense of smell of the pig makes it very efficient at hunting truffles, but it requires constant vigilance, because there is a high risk of the truffles being swallowed by the pig as they enjoy the taste. Also pigs tire rather quickly and are difficult to transport. Dogs however are not naturally interested in truffles and can be trained to indicate with their paw when they scent a truffle, and are happy to be rewarded with a treat. In recent years people have invested money in developing electronic "noses" but they still require work.
Black Truffle production is almost exclusively European, with France accounting for 45%, Spain 35%, Italy 20%, and small amounts from other countries. In 1900, France produced around 1,000 metric tonnes of Black Truffles. Production has considerably diminished in the past century, and is presently around 20 metric tonnes per year, with peaks at 46 metric tonnes in the best years.
The Black Summer Truffle (Tuber aestivum/unicinatum) thrives in northern Italy, central Europe and the UK but also grows in Turkey and North Africa. It is also highly valued for its culinary uses. Summer truffles do not have as strong an aroma or taste as winter truffles do. They are mainly harvested from June to November. These truffles grow in
symbiosis with trees such as oaks, hazels and beech. They can weigh up to 20-30 g, and their shape is generally round, up to 4 cm diameter.
Without a trained dog (or pig!) to locate them, most mushroom hunters never find a Black Truffle.
Once unearthed, truffle’s can be stored well packaged in a cool, damp place for months. They can also be frozen, although after thawing, texturally the quality becomes unacceptably soft and mushy. Black Truffles can be served raw, but are best when cooked with meat or added as small bits to sauces and savory dishes, allowing the longer cooking times to blend the flavors together. Slices of raw black truffles are often placed under the skin of uncooked fowl, such as duck or turkey, to enhance the flavor of the meat during and after it has been cooked. In addition to fowl, Black Truffles can be used with venison, beef, pork, bacon and pancetta. Black Truffles are usually used with hot dishes such as omelette's and sauces, including sauces made with wine or brandy, due to their pungent and lasting flavour. A few drops on scrambled eggs produces a special breakfast.
Black Truffle Frittata recipe (serves 4)
2 large baking potatoes, boiled, peeled and sliced
1 medium sized Black Truffle, peeled and diced
3 ounces juliennied prosciutto
2 tablespoons chopped, fresh Italian parsley
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 additional Black Truffle, thinly sliced (optional)
Dash of salt and pepper
The frittata will be cooked about 3/4 through on the stovetop, then "finished" under the broiler in the same skillet. Turn on broiler to medium. Beat the eggs with a dash of salt and pepper in a bowl. Stir in potatoes, diced truffle, parsley and prosciutto. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet and pour in the mixture. Do not stir mixture while cooking. Lift the edges and tilt skillet to pour liquid mixture under, repeat around circumference of pan until mixture is almost cooked. Now remove skillet from range and place under broiler to finish. Be careful not to burn, but give surface a light golden hue. Remove from broiler
and sprinkle top with thinly sliced truffle.
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