After almost 2 weeks in truffle land starting in the north and traveling south-west I discovered the season is very uneven, at least at this stage in the game. You can say that it’s too early to judge and argue it’s a decent and above average truffle season in comparison to the season of 2015. Certainly if you look back at truffle vintage 2013 and 2014, you will see the truffle season was better, mostly because the summer was consistently more wet making way for the truffles to grow.
2013 Vintage: https://mesubim.com/2013/11/11/red-magic-truffles/
Undoubtedly truffles are one of those treasures of nature, and are very dependant on the underground network of decaying matter, rodents, root networks, moisture, worms and insects. You may think that’s grotesque but all vegetables and mushrooms that grow underground and are subject to the microcosms of the earthy underground world. Luckily truffles are mostly worm free but then come the dogs!
Yes dogs have the nose to smell, specialized for identifying scents. The percentage of the dog’s brain that is devoted to analyzing smells is actually 40 times larger than that of a human. It’s been estimated that dogs can identify smells somewhere between 1,000-10,000 times better humans can.
The common breed well know for truffle hunting are the lagotto romagnolo, a handsome looking canine breed that comes from the region of Romagna in the north of Italy. It’s traditionally a hunting dog and is excellent in finding Tartufe. However this breed along with other numerous species are often used to hunt for truffles. It all depends on the animal, trainer and his territory – where he can hunt truffles. Truffles are found in forests either in lowlands or on the hills. In fact when you see a truffle that is more white, brown or red, it is determined by the location, soil and tree types. They are associated with poplars, willows, hazels, oaks and linden trees. The Italian white truffle has not yet been cultivated and is naturally found by dogs and not pigs.
Truffles are found in marly calcareous soils with high macroporosity, in generally well-drained alluvial plain forests. Always in shaded woods without too much surface light and stable temperatures without too much ground temperature fluctuation. In soil, macropores are defined as cavities that are larger than 75 microns. Functionally, pores of this size host preferential soil solution flow and rapid transport of solutes and colloids. Macropores increase the hydraulic conductivity of soil, allowing water to infiltrate and drain quickly, and shallow groundwater to move relatively rapidly via lateral flow. In soil, macropores are created by plant roots, soil cracks, soil fauna, and by aggregation of soil particles into peds. /wikipedia/
July and August rainfalls are essential for their production. Tuber magnatum season is very short, from late September to late November and according to each region it can be later or earlier. When the weather is perfect for grapes, it is terrible for wines and this year the wine producers in Langhe (Piemonte) are saying it is an exceptional vintage.
In this collection of photos you can see the different shapes of truffles from the season of 2016. Sometimes you’ll see a perfectly shaped truffle, but it’s perhaps too flat, or a not so perfect truffle, which has been gnawed at by a dog. Even his nails scratched the truffle’s surface leaving it exposed. If you think about it, you begin to understand that truffles are living natural matter and are subject to change the moment they leave their moist and dark underground home.
So what happens is the dog fines and digs for a short period of time until the hunter can have the confidence to move the dog and to use his stick to see what is below the Earth surface. Once the truffle is taken out it is cleaned off a little due to the fact that the conditions should be a relatively wet so the sand will be stuck to the surface of the truffle making heavier than it is. If the truffle has a regular shape there will be more mud, and the hunter needs to take more time and be careful not to remove any part of truffles skin. An immediate good superficial cleaning without removing too much, so that the weight and price is achieved.
There is always a fine line between the vendor and the hunter because a good vendor realizes that he can sell a really good truffle for much more given the fact today grade them in categories once they get them back to the laboratory. The hunter is selling not only his price truffles but his smaller less significant truffles all together.
White truffles are perfectly comfortable underground surrounded by a microcosmic world that has raised the truffle over a period of just a few months or less. Once they are out of the ground their clock starts ticking, and if they are kept in rice, they will likely get destroyed. I know and I wonder why do chefs put their truffles in white rice. Obviously they are trying to enhance the race through kind of osmosis whereby truffles water moisture that carries the distinctive odor transfers flavours.
But frankly the race will only draw out the moisture from the truffle thereby stealing its very life which is made up of over 95% water. Perhaps it has some water to share, And perhaps you can enhance your rice by using expensive truffles but that doesn’t make sense. By taking away truffle or any trouble for that matter and putting it into a dry environment we’ll only dry out the truffle and likely destroy it. So forget about maintaining truffles in rice and if you do buy white truffles keep them in a cloth at a cool temperature of 3° in the refrigerator. The cloth can be kept slightly moist but you must be careful not to over moisten it or the truffle will begin to rot.
The world that is affected by what goes on above it, and in the case of truffles the atmosphere and temperature help determine quality. In 2016 you can see that the truffles are very mixed in quality, in fact those very truffles that are infamous around the world for being fake, are unlikely from Italy or Europe. Truffles grow almost everywhere and the Chinese have figured that out.
Truffles also grow all over Italy from the south to the north. Many people believe that the best truffles come from the Langhe, and while that’s true in some cases, in other cases you can find truffles of equal or better quality in other parts of Italy. In fact in the north East not far from Modena (Emilia Romagna) there was the largest truffle ever found, which I was told was not only enormous in size but also excellent and taste.
Amateurs living in remote places like United States ordering truffles enjoy them after they have been shipped across the world. Those customers will never have the full comprehension of what white truffles truly taste like. Each time a truffle is shipped it loses lustre and at least a few grams in weight, from loss of moisture. There was a very fine line between the moisture content and the physical structure of the truffles veins, both go hand in hand and are key factors in the truffles texture. You cannot ignore the importance of the structure because truffle taste are in part about texture, and for that matter all raw mushrooms. The texture is that crunch you get that releases the volatile aromas and gives that important and pungent smell to white truffles. If you think about it the mandolin is key to breaking the surface of the truffle, each slice has two sides where the truffle aspirates in your mouth a pheromone power we crave.
What’s also interesting is from time to time you come across people who live in Piemonte and they are not truffle fans at all. What I’ve been told is that people who don’t like truffles, do not appreciate the smell and therefore they do not appreciate taste. The two are obviously very closely connected, and I can only imagine what it’s like for someone to live in Piemonte during the winter if they are not true truffle lover.
I’ve discussed this before in other posts about truffle makeup and how people enhance truffles by using aroma oils that are manufactured in France at perfume factories in Grasse. So when you’re buying a truffle and you’re sitting in an Italian restaurant in Hong Kong there could be a chance that you’re eating if a truffle, which means it’s coming from somewhere other than where you’ve been told, or it’s been enhanced and when it’s under your nose you’re being fooled. So the question is how do you know? Well you likely wont know unless the pasta arrives to the table and there are no truffles present and you smell truffles – then you have a problem on your hands – truffle oil: https://mesubim.com/2012/12/03/24-dithiapentane/
During the twentieth century the creation of synthetic products brought the democratization and affordability of perfumes and their spin-offs; (shampoos and deodorants, cream (pharmaceutical) and detergents, food flavoring for cookies, ice cream and dairy products, beverages, convenience foods, confectionery, preserves and syrups). In 1905, six hundred tons of flowers were harvested while in the 1940s, five thousand tons were produced annually. However, in early 2000, production was less than 30 tons for all flowers combined. /wikipedia/
Unfortunately there are many clients who don’t have any idea about the likes of truffle oil, and it’s even more sad that truffle vendors who provided some of the best truffles around the globe, also sell truffle oil to the very same clients. Truffle oil is 100% chemical, and don’t let anyone it’s not. You can believe me because no one would be foolish enough to take fresh white truffles and make an oil from them, and if they did the oil would cost as much.
In all these photographs below you’ve see different kinds of sized truffles even though they are mostly from different regions within Italy, but never forget that each forest has its own distinctive characteristics that will shape the Pico Magnatum. Each forest’s atmosphere will shape the way they have grown up and the way they’ll taste. When the white truffle is more white and has some surface damage (the dark spots), it looks not very unappetizing. However don’t be fooled by a truffle, and pay careful attention to the nose.
Truffles live under the ground and so they do get bruises, rot, worms and if you’re lucky you’ll get the perfect truffle which is found at the perfect time to be consumed. But don’t hold your breath because you would need to be in the forest, or beside a good market, or supplier to catch the perfect truffle. Even the vendors who sell them, focus more on size when grading them and while size is important, it isn’t everything.
Those darker more mature (moister) truffles in comparison to its lighter counterpart can have surface defects. So when it comes to taste you have to be very careful when judging white truffles by appearance only. Yes there are optimal truffle colors, density, perfect veining and of course the shape and condition is key. However some truffles look better when just the opposite is true, and a light coloured truffle may give you more pleasure, but a lot depends on the individual truffle itself and it’s very difficult to generalize.
I adore truffles all types and I would not ignore the importance of mushrooms in general because they are splendid especially in the north in central part of Italy. I would not ignore truffles that come from Slovenia, or truffles that come from any place where there’s a history of truffle harvesting. You cannot underestimate the importance of any food, especially when it’s a rare seasonal product, and these foods are for those people who search them out. Not by those sports hedonistic food seekers the lack the appreciation and understanding, or the motion to appreciate the importance of the great truffle at a great moment and time. Every truffle has its day 🙂