Written by Grace Mooney
Difficult to source and well worth their weight in gold (with prices nearly as much), truffles are the darlings of many kitchens world wide, and have dominated the haut cuisine scene for centuries. They were heralded the “diamonds of the kitchen” by French gourmet Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarine, and have been the source of wonder and mystery since the twentieth-century BCE. Carved into a neo-Sumerian tablet, truffles are mentioned as part of the diet of the Amorites – their enemies during this period. Truffles have been steeped in mystery throughout history, with a number of philosophers of the ancient world theorising as to their ‘creation’. Plutarch (c. 46CE – 120CE) believed them to be a mixture of lightening, warmth and water, while Cicero (106BCE – 43BCE) hypothesized that they were the children of the earth. There is little evidence of use during the medieval period in Europe, and it was not until the seventeenth century that truffles came into vogue, as French cuisine dropped its heavy use of oriental spices and rediscovered the natural flavours of foodstuffs.
Found near the roots of certain trees, most commonly oak, hazel, beech and chestnut, today truffle growers employ both pigs and dogs to find these hidden treasures that lie three to twelve inches beneath the surface of the soil. Most commonly dogs these days, as the pigs are liable to eat the sought-after truffle! The cultivation of truffles is a labour of love, as the trufficulteur (truffle farmer) has to carefully check the ripeness of the fungus, and be careful not to touch the truffle with their bare hands as that can cause it to rot. If not ready, they are covered back over and left, to be found on another truffle hunting expedition.
The two most common varieties found commercially in Australia are the Black – or Perigord – (Tuber Melanosporum) and White (Tuber Magnatum) truffles, both of which have their own separate characteristics and flavour profiles. Although the aroma and taste of truffles have defied explanation, black truffles emit a powerfully earthy aroma that is unmistakable, while white truffles have a slightly more subtle and delicate flavour that is laced with garlicky undertones. Truffles have, unsurprisingly, been combined with other ingredients to create products that can be added to a variety of dishes for that hit of truffle flavour – without the cost of the truffle itself. For instance, truffle oil (either black or white) drizzled over freshly cooked pasta with a smattering of parmesan is a beautifully simple and luxurious dinner, or cheese boards and baked soft cheeses benefits from the addition of truffled honey.
In Australia today there is a growing industry of truffle cultivation – with farms in Western Australia, Tasmania and South Australia now producing these sought-after delights. However, the Aboriginal population of Australia have enjoyed truffle-like mushrooms found in dry, desert areas since before white settlement. Choiromyces Aboriginum and Mycoclelandia Bulundari, found in the dry area of the Northern Territory, Western and South Australia, were traditionally cooked in hot sand and ashes, with the flavours being of baked Camembert and of strong ‘mushroom’ respectively. Although not true truffles, they are delicacies in their own right and are prized as ‘desert truffles’, with similar varieties sold in Middle Eastern markets today.
Join us at the Prahran Market on Sunday 9th of July 2017 for the annual Truffle festival that celebrates the earthy aromas of these elusive fungi. This year paired with charcuterie, it will be a day of palate pleasing delights. In conjunction with the Festival The Essential Ingredient will be serving up a delicious Truffle risotto with sauteed garlic thyme mushrooms, shaved proscuitto and truffled pangrattato. Be sure to drop by.
The Essential Ingredient also stocks a large range of truffled products and a vast array of dried mushrooms to add to any warming winter dish. These can be found on our website and in store, so why not pop in for a look.