Truffles are fascinating and capture the attention of people all over the world. I compare them to the greatest food treasures, i.e. garlic, salt, pepper, caviar, etc. Their notoriety mostly comes from Piedmont in Italy where we find the finest whites. The whites are price sensitive and are cherished by those devotees who annually consume them. The truffle doesn’t begin and end with the white but the white are scared and from them we learn about what to look for in taste and appearance.
The surface is smooth, but it is not white, it has a creamy, cafe au lait color that can have yellow and grey highlights covered with dirt. The veined flesh (gleba) varies from blond to chestnut depending on the type of tree that hosts the truffle. The skin is smooth and shows yellow-grey coloration; the flesh has a light whitish-reddish-brownish cast with white veins. Its aroma is reminiscent of garlic, shallot and cheese.
We look for signs that truffle are under the trees a specific insect, the suillia fly, which is more visible in the black truffle. This fly lays eggs where truffles grow, above ground near the bottom of the tree. You will see the insect flying close to the ground where the truffles grow.
Occasionally, when in black truffles the brûlés are particularly effective and the ground vegetation is not dense, the truffle hunter may even observe flies in the process of laying their eggs. The flies stumble across the ground, seeking to position themselves directly above the truffle. In frantic, back-and-forth movements, they locate the truffle with sensory organs found in their antennae. Sometimes, two flies will arrive above a truffle at the same time. Things can then get violent, with the flies tussling and rolling about until one grows weary and leaves to find another truffle. The burn or brule is a patch of ground that the black truffle mycelium wont allow any weeds to grow in.
The brule forms around the truffle tree trunk, starting in a small radius near the tree trunk, growing outward every year. Once a brule appears on your truffle trees, it is a good sign that all is well underground and you should be collecting black truffles. The brule is the black truffle defense system, so to speak. The mycelium underground burns the weeds above on the surface to probable kill off any competition for water.
Sometimes the brule will make a complete circle around the tree on the ground, other times it will be only on one side of the tree. Regardless how the burn appears, it means that all is well underground and the truffle spore is the dominating micro organism killing off its competition.