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What Is a Truffle and Why Is It So Expensive?

If you haven’t tried real truffles before, you’re seriously missing out. They’re a rare delight that everyone should try at least once in their lifetime. 

At the time of this writing, I have yet to hold a fresh truffle in my hand. I’ve had a variety of truffle products and meals with the flavor of valuable truffles, and a few may have even had this delicacy freshly infused. 

And I’ve watched a server shave actual truffle on a steak for a tablemate. The scent of truffles alone was just heavenly.
 
But a fresh truffle is hard to come by and very expensive, so I rely on the different ways that the truffle arrives to stores and restaurants in order to enjoy the delightful truffle mushroom.

Even though they’re quite an expensive food, fresh truffles taste absolutely divine and add an earthy and umami flavor to any dish they’re added to.

I love to use truffle oil when cooking eggs or to flavor a pasta dish, but I also drizzle it over Caprese Salad.

Infused olive oil with truffle flavor is such an expensive delicacy, but it makes the truffle last. I’ve had 8 oz of truffle oil last a year in my house. 

You can make your own truffle butter with white truffles or black truffles, too.

See our recipe card below for how to make your own truffle butter.

So I decided to do some research about this amazing fruiting body of a fungus, so we could all learn more about different types of truffles, what they taste like, and how they can be used.

What Is a truffle?

True truffles are a type of fungus, found near and around the roots of trees.

Once harvested, truffles are typically used as a seasoning in cooking. 

There are different species, and truffle hunters can be seen in parts of North America and Europe, searching and digging with their truffle dogs to help locate the truffles’ pungent smell in the dirt. 

Truffles are a rare treat that are generally only served in small amounts, added to a dish or sprinkled like parmesan cheese as a finishing flavor at the finest of restaurants. 

According to Eataly and Urbani, there are three main types of truffle: Black, White, and Burgundy.

With subspecies that include black summer truffle.

Epicurious claims that the black winter truffle is the most flavorful. Here’s their recipe for Foie Gras and Cream Eggs, if you’re feeling fancy. 

Often when cooking people often actually use truffle oil to infuse the flavor without having the expense of the actual truffle.

White truffles are often served raw and shaved directly onto a dish but you can also cook them into a dish. White truffles tend to be more expensive than black truffles.

White truffles are often compared to gold or diamonds because of their price.

Black truffles have a pungent aroma and as a result, are generally not served raw but are instead cooked into a dish.

Truffles are edible fungi, just like mushrooms, but they’re grown underground near tree roots.

The best kinds of truffles are wildly expensive and can cost up to thousands of dollars per pound.

Truffles should not be confused with chocolate truffles. Chocolate truffles, also sometimes called just “truffles” are a manmade confection, not a naturally occurring mushroom.

They can only thrive in specific weather conditions. Black truffles need mild or dry winters and warm summers to grow.

Two of the most highly valued truffles include black truffles from France and white truffles from Italy.

While truffle pigs used to be part of the truffle hunting team, they are outlawed in Europe because they have a tendency to destroy the ecosystem where the truffles and trees grow.

Black truffle vs. white truffle

White truffles are more aromatic than black truffles. White truffles are often eaten raw and sliced thinly to serve atop a dish.

Black truffles are rarely served raw but instead are cooked into a dish.

Costs for truffles vary by region and season. Fresh summer truffles are $140 USD for four oz. at the time of this update.

Black truffles grow in France from December to February.

White truffles, however, come from Italy’s Piedmont region that borders Switzerland and France and are found in certain parts of Croatia.

The season for white truffles spans September through December and hits its peak in October and November.

There are other species of black truffles harvested in the summer that can also be used in cooking but they’re known to be a lot less luxurious in flavor.

What is truffle oil?

Truffle oil is basically food-grade oil (often olive oil) that has either fresh or dried truffles infused in it.

The truffle oil was created as a way to add the earthy and umami flavor of truffles to dishes without having to pay an exorbitant amount for the fresh product.

After pieces of truffle are added, the oil is stored for some time until it absorbs both the scent and flavor of this edible fungus.

However, it is important to note that not all truffle oil actually contains truffle.

When buying truffle oil pay close attention to the label and perhaps investigate the source in advance.

The cheaper truffle oils have been created to mimic the smell and taste of truffles without actually containing truffles.

Of course, even this simulated flavor can be quite pleasing and certainly offer more affordable prices.

What do truffles taste like?

Truffles have a unique earthy flavor to them. While it is difficult to compare it to anything else, it tastes a lot like nutty mushroom with a subtle umami finish.

Pungent, aromatic, and strongly flavored are all words that are used to describe what truffles taste like.

They can be an acquired taste, like caviar or escargot. 

Truffles are rarely eaten alone, but are added to cheese, white tartufo honey, added to amazing truffle pasta, oil, butter, and even made into truffle salt, and more.

English truffles are often shaved fresh onto plated meals at high-end restaurants.

Eating truffles in a dish is a unique experience and part of it is the aroma of truffles that they add to a dish even more than the taste.

Even though truffles may have a pungent odor, their flavor makes up for it.

For optimum flavor, you need to serve them either raw or cooked with the right ingredients. 

White truffles and black truffles are known to taste quite similar after they’re cooked.

Even though white truffles can be enjoyed raw or cooked, raw black truffles are said to not be quite as appetizing. 

Black truffles have a more intense smell but white truffles have a stronger flavor.

Describing the taste of truffles is not an easy task because it has a variety of complex flavors that are difficult to identify.

They don’t taste sweet, but they’re not bitter either.

Truffles are as seasonally varied and distinct as apples or wine.

Why are truffles so expensive?

Truffles are expensive for a number of reasons.

They’re incredibly hard to find because they grow underground around certain trees: oak trees, beech trees, and a few others.

Truffles grow in very specific conditions, and are downright impossible to store for very long.

In some parts of Europe, truffle hunting is a highly regulated industry, and the gatherers need to be licensed and have trained truffle dogs.

Here’s an excellent article about the truffle industry in Italy. 

Starting up truffle farms in the Pacific Northwest is expensive, and inoculating the right trees with truffle spores is time consuming. 

Even though different species have been found all over the globe, higher price prestige truffles are found in specific areas, just like wine that only comes from celebrated regions of Europe.

Raw truffles have to be in season to purchase them and the season is also regional.

Can you eat truffles raw?

Fresh white species of truffles are arguably considered the best in flavor and don’t even need to be cooked. 

They’re very simple to prepare. All you need to do is shave off the top and get it warmed up so it tastes just right.

Black truffles, on the other hand, need to be cooked up a little bit in order to get rid of their intense smell.

How to buy truffles

Since truffles cannot be planted, per se, all the different kinds of truffles are only available for a few months every year. 
If you’re interested in buying white or burgundy truffles, you should look for fresh and fragrant fungi.

You can find white truffles between September and December, black truffles from December to the beginning of March, and bianchetti truffles almost exclusively in February and March.

It’s advisable to get them from a good restaurant or specialty stores.

It’s recommended that you only buy them during their peak harvesting season as their flavor can dilute just within a few weeks of harvesting. 

Fresh, raw truffles have a very short shelf life and need to be eaten within two to three days.

This is why a lot of truffles come processed in jars and cans to extend their viability.

We found this online store that will show you the truffles’ origin, producer, and price.

How to use truffles

Truffles can be enjoyed in many different ways. You can use a metal truffle shaver to sprinkle them over all kinds of pasta, polenta, truffle risotto, and even eggs. (The flavor of truffles goes a long way, though, and eggs are delicate, so go easy on eggs.)

These shavings can add the most luxurious twist to the plainest of dishes.

Always start with a small amount when adding even just truffle flavored products to your dishes, or the food can be easily overwhelmed by the depth of flavor.

We’ve already established that truffle is a kind of edible fungus, but you shouldn’t confuse it with mushrooms that you can boil, bake or fry.

Cooking truffles for too long can destroy their characteristic flavor and scent.

How to use truffle oil

Truffle oil is usually sprinkled lightly over dishes just before they’re served. You can try adding a sprinkle of truffle oil on any of the following dishes:

  • Soups
  • Stews
  • Steaks
  • Risotto
  • Garlic bread
  • Lobster
  • Roasted vegetables
  • Salads
  • Eggs and Quiche
  • Even French fries!
Truffle butter finished on a cutting board

Garlic truffle butter recipe

Yield: 2 Cups
Prep Time: 20 minutes
Cook Time: 4 hours 30 minutes
Total Time: 4 hours 50 minutes

This recipe for truffle butter is easy to make and only includes a few ingredients. We make it with fresh black truffle. 

Ingredients

  • 1 oz fresh black truffle
  • 2 ½ c unsalted butter
  • ½ t flaky sea salt
  • 1 clove garlic
  • ½ T rosemary
  • ½ T freshly ground black pepper

Instructions

  1. Soften the butter
  2. Finely mince the garlic
  3. Finely mince the fresh rosemary
  4. Grate the black truffle
  5. Mash the butter with a fork until light and fluffy.
  6. Combine the butter with flaky sea salt and mix with a spatula until the sea salt is evenly distributed throughout the butter.
  7. Stir in the grated black truffle and mix well.
  8. Next add the minced garlic, black pepper, and rosemary and mix all together.
  9. Let the butter sit for about 30 minutes at room temperature before placing it in the refrigerator (this allows the flavors to blend together).
  10. Place the butter on a piece of parchment paper and wrap the parchment paper around the butter (shape into a log).
  11. Then cover with cling film, roll uptight, and tie ends.
  12. Place in the freezer for about 4 hours so that the butter can harden into a butter stick type of mold.
  13. Before serving place in the refrigerator (in a covered container) so that the butter can slightly soften for easy serving. 

Notes

This truffle butter will keep for 2 weeks in the fridge. You can also freeze it. Feel free to use white truffle instead of black truffle. 

Did you make this recipe?

Please leave a comment on the blog or share a photo on Pinterest

Final Words

Truffles are best enjoyed in their harvesting season and mustn’t be kept out for long as they can lose their flavor and aroma within a week or two.

You may refrigerate them if you wish to increase their shelf-life.

Most people believe that the flavor of truffles isn’t overhyped at all and is well worth the price.

If this blog has piqued your interest in truffles, remember to get them only during their harvesting season and feel free to shave them over eggs, salads or any savory dishes of your choice.

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