In the 1800s, French gastronomer Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin referred to truffles as “the diamond of the kitchen” and, with modern shipments costing chefs up to $2,800 per pound during peak season, the comparison isn’t grandiose.
Although native to southern Europe, today black truffles are cultivated in North America, Australia, New Zealand and, with some success, in Canada. The most coveted, and therefore the most expensive, come from Italy and France where climate conditions are just right.
Truffles grow underground entangled in tree roots, most often those of hazelnut and oak trees. The fungus collects water for the plant and, in return, the tree produces sugar, which helps form the truffle’s fruit.
The most desired truffle, the Périgord, is foraged in the wild, “hunted” one by one, by specially trained dogs or pigs attracted to the mushroom’s unique aroma — an alluring scent that mimics the sex pheromones of mammals. Once the truffle has been sniffed out, the farmer digs up the lumpy black treasure by hand.
In the kitchen
Larry Stewart, Chef and Owner of both Hardware Grill and Tavern 1903, sources the majority of his truffles from Mo-Na Food, which imports them from Burgundy, a region in France. “Sometimes we shave them on a soup, or slip them under the skin of birds before roasting. Extra virgin olive oil infused with truffles is great for aioli, salad dressings and drizzled on popcorn.”
At Corso 32, Owner and Chef Daniel Costa lets the ingredient shine in his upscale grilled cheese filled with “a Tuscan sheep and cow milk cheese that is aged with very aromatic black truffles.”
Fungus among us
The aroma and flavour of truffles diminishes by half within four to five days. Buy them fresh and use them quickly.
The ancient Greeks believed that truffles were created when lightning hit damp soil.
Because of their erotic scent, monks in the Middle Ages were not allowed to eat truffles for fear the fungi would cause them to forget their calling.
Recipe: Goat Cheese with Roasted Beets and Shaved Truffle
from Chef Larry Stewart of Tavern 1903 and Hardware Grill
(serves approx. 4 persons)
Step 1: Roast Beets
1 lb red beets, scrubbed
Rub the beets in olive oil and wrap in foil. Bake 45 to 60 minutes until tender. Chill completely. Peel beets and cut into small wedges, save trim.
Step 2: While Beets Roast
1⁄2 red onion, 1⁄4-inch dice
2.5 oz balsamic vinegar
1⁄2 teaspoon each of salt and pepper
Simmer red onion, balsamic vinegar and ½ teaspoon each of salt and pepper together until onions soft. Let cool and toss with beets.
Step 3: Dressing
In a blender:
4 oz of beet trimmings
6 oz of water
1 tsp horseradish
2 oz walnut oil (or virgin olive oil)
Pinch of salt and pepper
1⁄2 oz balsamic vinegar
Blend well and strain, save for use as dressing.
6 to 8 oz goat cheese
5 g whole truffle (canned or fresh if available)
Small handful of arugula
1 tsp olive oil
Divide beets onto four plates then toss a small amount of arugula in olive oil and place in middle of beets. Crumble small pieces of goat cheese and sprinkle on top. Shave truffle on top using mandolin or truffle shaver. Lastly, drizzle beet dressing decoratively around plate perimeter.
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