All about Truffles
by Jean Robertson
Black gold which fetches over 1,000 euros a kilo. We have all read about this but what exactly is a truffle?
Truffles or ’Tuber Melanosporum’ are fungi that grow underground from small organisms that grow on the roots of certain trees, in particular green and white oaks. Sometimes they are found on other species among which are the hazel, the hornbeam and the limetree.
In order for the truffle to develop the right combination of soil, climate and host tree must be present and even then it is not guaranteed. The soil must be chalky, the climate Mediterranean and the tree of the right species.
The complete growth cycle of the truffle takes place underground. In the spring, as the first rays of sunshine begin to heat up the ground the spores that are found in the decomposed truffles of the previous season begin to develop into the fungi which attach themselves to the root system of the host tree. This encourages ’le brule’, a bare zone around the affected roots which is possible due to some sort of chemical reaction which discourages the growth of any vegetation in the area.
In the late spring and summer the first little truffles start to grow, aided by the spring rains and summer storms. They are harvested, in great secrecy, during the late autumn and winter. Once the specially trained dog has indicated the presence of truffles the ’trufficulteur’ will investigate the site with the help of a trowel or spoon. This is done with great care so as not to damage the roots or disturb any immature truffles. The hole is then carefully refilled.
The truffle is a seasonal product best eaten fresh. The ideal conservation method is to brush them carefully to remove any mud and then store them whole in a plastic container, either wrapped in absorbent paper or on a bed of rice. They are best kept in a fridge for no more than ten days.
The truffle is well protected by law with heavy fines and the possibility of prison sentences being awarded as punishment for poaching. At all reputable truffle fairs the goods on sale will be inspected by an expert to ensure that they are the genuine article.
An economical way to enjoy the flavour is in scrambled eggs. The required number of eggs are stored overnight in a plastic container together with a whole truffle. After about twelve hours make your scrambled eggs in the usual way. The scent and flavour of the truffle will have impermeated through the eggshells. You can add a few truffle shavings before serving. Don’t be toooo heavy handed as it is a very delicate flavour.