The Trouble With Truffles

The REAL trouble with truffles is their expense – otherwise they are quite perfect (for lovers of fungi, that is). These wild, foraged, rather ugly members of the mushroom family often go for enormous prices, depending on their variety and size. Did any of you see the news article making the Facebook rounds of a whopping 1.89kg white truffle auctioned at Sotheby’s in New York back in 2014? Its asking price was a million dollars, but it went for less – $61,250.00. Now, I love truffles – both the black and white ones – but there is no way that any (sane) home cook would pay that much for this sublime taste.

A few years ago – or perhaps more than a few – I happened to catch part of a TV programme featuring a young plant biologist who was then a PhD student at my husband’s university. It was one of those programmes where wannabe entrepreneurs pitch business ideas to a panel of investors (if you are in the UK, you will know which programme I mean). This student had perfected a way of injecting truffle spores into tree roots and was seeking funding to kick start a trial business cultivating trees implanted with black truffle spoors in the UK. Well, he’s finally managed to farm black truffles – as reported in this BBC news article back in March of this year, and also announced on his company’s website. The company has, to date, established a worldwide partnership network of truffle plantations and is seeking to expand, so let’s hope the global price of truffles in future will go down to a less astronomical figure. Perhaps we will all be cooking with them soon, although for now many of us have to content ourselves with cooking with truffle-infused products like truffle salt or truffle oil.

A little while ago, I was given a bottle of English truffle oil, which sat in the cupboard awaiting inspiration. It comes from a company based in Wiltshire where they hunt wild truffles in the area. Yes, we have native truffles, although most of the truffles in the UK are still imported from more truffle-known places like Italy and France.

english_truffle_oil_feature

Inspiration struck after attempting to make a porcini mushroom and rosemary conza (a toasted breadcrumb condiment I posted on earlier in Much Ado About Mollica). Now, grinding those dried porcini mushrooms proved a real problem and the best I could achieve were tiny, tiny pieces. The conza was duely made, but the bits of dried mushroom proved to be a bit chewy, plus their flavour really wasn’t imparted to the toasted breadcrumbs. So, I got the idea to scrap the porcini mushrooms altogether and use the truffle infused oil for that earthy, mushroomy flavour. It proved a brilliant idea!

truffle_conza
Truffle, Rosemary & Pine Nut Conza

  • 100g whole wheat or spelt breadcrumbs (sourdough, if possible)
  • 1 Tablespoon truffle oil
  • 30g chopped pine nuts
  • 1 Tablespoon finely chopped rosemary (from approximately 2 sprigs)
  • a pinch of sea salt

Add the truffle oil to a large frying pan and heat on low – not hot enough to burn. Add the breadcrumbs and the chopped pine nuts (they should be small pieces, but not too fine) and the finely chopped rosemary. Toast the crumbs until they begin to brown, continually stiring and turning them over, making sure that the oil is distributed throughout. Once they are beginning to turn golden brown, you will be able to smell the aroma of the toasted pine nuts and rosemary. Turn off the heat and let the seasoned crumbs cool in the pan. Once cool, remove and add the salt.

This makes enough for several uses (some examples of which are shown in the images below). Always try to pair the flavours in the conza with the food it is applied to. Truffles go well with most things mushrooms do, particularly eggs. Store it in an air-tight container up to 4 weeks and use when required. In order to refresh the crumbs, if they become soft, simply spread on a baking tray and heat at a low temperature in the oven until they are crunchy again.

truffle_conza_baked_pastaAs a topping on a baked ricotta and courgette pasta dish

mushrooms_truffle_conzaEnhancing grilled stuffed mushrooms

conza_eggsFried Eggs with Breadcrumbs (inspired by the Zuni Cafe Cookbook)

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20 comments

  1. Here in Italy they’re a little expensive, but you could find some white/black truffles creams really great for bruschetta and appetizers. You’re recipe seems really great too. I love eggs + truffles, great flavour. 😉 Cris

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  2. That sounds like a tasty mix and would be good on all sorts of dishes. Hard to believe truffles are so madly expensive. I wonder if the Tassie ones are any good?

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    • Normal truffles aren’t quite as expensive as the extreme example I mentioned. You can find them at reasonable prices – as a treat, used sparingly. Truffle oil is a good way of getting the flavour at a slightly cheaper price. You should give the Aussie ones a try. Like most growing things, I suspect they taste different from environment to environment (the terroir factor).

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    • You are right – a great way to eek out the precious flavour. I think the Aussie ones may be part of that worldwide truffle plantation network. Or, ore their native truffles there?

      On another note, hope your move has gone smoothly. We leave VERY soon, and my WordPress reading/commenting has suffered lately. Hope to be back on an even keel post-move!

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      • No native truffles here, we are growing French black truffles. We arrived in Brisbane last week, staying with Leah, we move our things into the new place on Saturday. I’m looking forward to getting but into the kitchen!

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  3. You don’t have to be super-rich to eat real truffles. The price of a truffle depends on the type (in Italy white are the most expensive) and size. A large one costs more per gram than a small one. At San Miniato (Tuscany) for 12€ I’ve bought a small one which was enough to infuse in melted butter to dress two portions of pasta and shave some on top. For about 200€ you can come out with my truffle hunter to find your own. You don’t get to keep the truffles, but you go to the truffle hunter’s home for lunch with truffles in every course (well, not dessert) prepared by him and his wife. Admittedly, you have to get to Italy first, but once you’re here you have so many other delights that it’s well worth the expense!

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    • Tempting! Am not even in Greece yet, and am already plotting my return to Garfagnana! Truffles are really wonderful, but they are on the slightly expensive side, particularly outside truffle regions. True, they don’t cost the earth like the extreme example I gave and one modest one can go quite a long way. Will be thinking of you truffle hunting, porcini mushroom gathering, and wild blueberry picking… All the things I love.

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  4. I love crumbs on things, though I haven’t tried with truffles! I’ve found that while they are expensive, the flavour (and scent) go such a long way it’s not really that bad. I bought a nearly 50g one for $48 (about 22GBP) during the Australian season in July and it made two meals – flavouring a pile of scrambled eggs for one meal, plus a risotto for the other…

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