I was bought a bottle of truffle oil by some of my friends this Christmas and I have been enjoying a splash of this interesting new flavour on scrambled eggs and risotto. Recently while mentioning the truffle oil to another friend, Jake, it turned out coincidentally that Jake had just returned from living in the south of France with a number of black truffles he needed to use before they went off. Just yesterday I was treated to a lunch at Jake's house which incorporated both truffles and truffle oil.
This is the truffle we ate, it is a melanosporum truffle also known as a black diamond. These are supposed to be the best truffles available which grow around the roots of oak trees around southern France and Italy. Jake obtained this truffle by going to the truffle market in Richerenches. Jake's family have a farm in the Rhone-Alps region so luckily he can speak French and has he has lived locally for the last year he has some knowledge of truffle market etiquette . Apparently the overpriced posh stalls are to be avoided and shady deals round back alleys will get you the best truffle for your money.
Now the flavour of truffle is very interesting, complex and quite hard to describe. Truffles are fungi so are closely related to mushrooms. I would say that one part of the taste of truffles is similar to the dark earthy flavour you get in mushrooms but much deeper yet also cleaner. I also think they taste a bit like the way petrol smells but without any of the toxicity. They are musty but in a good way.
I also discovered after eating fresh truffle for the first time that there is a lot of difference between eating the truffle and using truffle infused olive oil. Truffle oil actually has much more of a heady musty truffle flavour than the actual truffles.
Jake prepared two courses for lunch the first was a celeriac salad with a dressing made from truffle oil. In this dish the dark oily must of the truffle oil worked well with the clean fresh flavoured celeriac.
The second dish was a cod and potato hash with a huge amount of fresh black truffle grated on top. even though we ere eating much more truffle in this dish the flavour was far more delicate than the oil. Using truffle oil it is possible to completely over power the dish using the actual truffles however you get a much more subtle delicate flavour which adds a different dimension of taste. In a way truffle adds interest to flavours. The meals which benifit the most from the addition of truffles are omelettes, creamy pasta, creamy potato and light risotto dishes. A grating of truffle to these kind of foods enhances and completes them. Truffles in a way are the contained essence of dark heady, oily roast meats and stews.
As a surprise at the end of the meal Jake pulled out a bottle of truffle aperitif which is one of the souvenoirs you can pick up at french truffle markets. It actually tasted quite good. It had the flavour of truffle mixed with a sweet white dessert wine. Quite odd to get you flavour head round though. It did go well with the excellent pavlova which Sarah made to finish the lunch. The pavlova was a great light finish to the truffle experience.