WHAT ARE TRUFFLES
Truffles are a rare type of edible mushroom or fungus that develops underground in relation to and dependent on the root of a tree. They are actually the “fruit” of the organism, much like apples are the fruits of trees. During harvesting time, trained pigs and dogs are used to sniff out the very strong scent coming from under the ground.
Truffles have a long and established history and have been around for centuries. Springtime in Europe brings out the truffle hunters and their trained pigs and dogs with high hopes of finding buried treasure. They are very difficult to find, resulting in very high prices in the market. Certain varieties fetch even higher prices than others because they are so rare.
Hunters usually prefer to use trained dogs rather than pigs, because a pig is much more likely to eat the sniffed out treasure he finds. The trained dog, however, would much rather a reward of bread or some other type of treatment than truffles.
DIFFERENT TRUFFLE TYPES
There are many different types of truffles, up to 70 varieties, but only a small selection is usually available for purchase. Fresh truffles should be consumed within 3 to 4 days of harvest; otherwise, they should be frozen for later use. They should never be re-frozen after thawing either, as the flavor and aroma will be completely gone defeating the whole purpose of the luxurious experience. Truffles can also be preserved, as well as chopped and pureed in sauces and seasonings.
These are the most common types found in restaurants and markets:
The Black Winter Truffle (Tuber melanosporum)
This truffle is round, and has grayish to black skin with white veins. It is the most prized of all the different truffle types, earning the nickname of the “Black Diamond of Provence.”
Growing season – December to March.
The Black Summer Truffle (Tuber aestivum)
This truffle looks like the Black Winter Truffle, only bigger and tougher. It has a yellowish to grayish appearance with white veins. It is also the least expensive type of the bunch.
Growing season – May to August.
The Brumale Truffle (Tuber Brumale)
Also called “Truffe MusquÃ©e,” and has a dark grayish color at maturity. It has white veins, but they are bigger than those of the Black Winter Truffle. Grows in the same area as the Black Winter Truffle.
Growing season – December to March.
The Burgundy Truffle (Tuber uncinatum)
Also called “Truffe Grise,” with a round shape similar to the Black Summer Truffle. At maturity, it has a brownish coloring with white veins.
Growing season – September to January
The White Italian Truffle (Tuber Magnatum Pico)
This truffle has white to fawnish colored skin with white veins. Very expensive and rare.
Growing season – October to December
Independent truffle farming is no small feat and requires several years to harvest a single, first crop. Once a tree has successfully produced a crop of truffles however, it can continue to do so for decades afterward.
In order for truffles to be grown in an artificial environment, such as a backyard, the host tree needs to be inoculated with the fungus under very controlled conditions. There are several cultivation farms that have successfully mastered this technique, and inoculated seedlings can be purchased from them.
Truffles can only grow in a climate without extreme weather changes, such as very cold winters or very hot summers. Extreme weather conditions are likely to damage any possibility of a successful harvest.
Another requirement is a well-drained soil, but they can tolerate almost any type of soil as long as it has really good drainage. The soil should be well maintained for nutritional elements, and any problems corrected prior to planting.
Specific instructions for a particular type of truffle growing should be given by the sapling cultivation farm.