A truffle is, in the simplest terms, a fungus or mushroom of the genus Tuber. It grows underground as an ectomycorrhizal.
The term ectomycorrhizal is used to describe the combined host tree root/fungus structure of truffles. Mycorrhizas are the structures which enable the symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationship between the host tree and the fungus to be formed.
Truffles fruit below ground. They have evolved to produce strong chemical aromas when mature which attract and entice certain forest animals to locate and consume them. The truffle spores are then dispersed through the forest when they pass through the animal’s digestive system.
There are many species of truffle, but only a small number are sought after for culinary use and have commercial value.
Although the different species have broad similarities, there are many significant differences between species, including where and when they grow, size, colour, appearance, aroma, taste, use and commercial value.
Périgord black truffle (Tuber melanosporum Vitt)
The main variety of truffle grown in New Zealand and in season from mid-May to late July. The Périgord truffle is prized for its sweet, intense and pleasant smell.
Bianchetto (Tuber borchii Vitt)
This smaller truffle, often the size of a quail egg, is also distinguished from the Périgord truffle by its whiteish colour. Though not as famous as its larger cousin, the White Alba truffle, the Bianchetto truffle offers a similar flavour: sharp, earthy, garlicky and/or cheesy. Available from May to September.
Winter black truffle (Tuber brumale)
With a similar outward appearance as the Périgord black truffle, the difference between the two can be seen once sliced, as the Winter black truffle has larger and less frequent veins which are a brownish-grey colour versus the white of the Périgord. The Winter black truffle’s aroma is very strong, tending to be very musky, hence its use in commercial applications.
Burgundy or Summer truffle (Tuber aestivum Vitt)
Only a very few growers in New Zealand, so limited availability.
While each truffle varies slightly in aroma and taste, they generally all have an earthy, mushroom-like aroma. The pungent aroma and subtle flavour can turn any traditional dish into a gourmet taste experience – think risotto, pasta, a perfectly cooked steak with truffle butter, even scrambled eggs and potato mash. Truffles truly have the unique ability to enhance savoury and even sweet dishes to gourmet status.
With their mushroom leanings, truffle pairs beautifully with mushroom dishes, but this is by no means their only application.
Get the most out of their flavour by using a fat to carry this, be it in butter, oil or fat-based sauces like aioli or hollandaise or the likes of cream, soft cheese and eggs.
Truffle’s amazing flavour works surprisingly well with everything from steak and chicken to seafood.
Balance its heady aroma with palate-refreshing apple or lemon. And remember, truffles are delicate and best not heated too much. Get the most bang for your buck by using just before serving, i.e., shave over a pizza, pasta or scrambled eggs.
A truffière (pronounced “TRUE-fee-air”) is what you call a truffle farm. The person who grows them is, in French, a truffier without an accented e (pronounced “TRUE-fee-er”).
There are a growing number of truffière from Northland to Waiheke Island through Waikato and BOP and in Nelson and Canterbury.