Eaten since ancient times, but brought to prominence in the 19th century by the gastronome Brillat-Savarin, who dubbed it the « diamond of the kitchen », the black truffle (Tuber melanosporum) is a flavorful, fragrant, and highly sought-after delicacy that still tantalizes refined palates. This black fungus grows underground near to trees such as oaks. it is characterized by its swollen appearance, white veins, and by its grassy smell.
The black truffle or black Périgord truffle is a winter truffle that reaches its peak ripeness in January. The southwest and southeast regions of are the largest truffle-producing areas of France. It is the reason for the many truffle markets held there. Sarlat, in the Dordogne region, holds a truffle festival in January. Richerenches, in the Vaucluse district, is the most important truffle market in Europe. The truffles sold there are both those farmed in truffle orchards (truffières) and wild truffles harvested in forests. Otherwise, fresh black truffles are sold in gourmet grocery stores, dedicated websites, and ordinary markets in the south of France. There, however, care should be taken to avoid confusing them with Chinese truffles (Tuber indicum), which are very widespread and a source of scams; these have the same appearance, with pale, pinkish red, striated flesh and no aroma.
A good black truffle should be firm and dry to the touch. It should be fragrant and free from cuts, mold, and parasites. It should also be brushed or washed to remove all traces of soil, and weigh at least 5 g. An interprofessional agreement on fresh truffles, updated in 2009, provides greater clarity regarding quality standards for this high-value product. According to the agreement: The Extra category is given to superior quality truffles that are well rounded or lobed weighing 30 g or more. First Class applies to well-formed truffles weighing 10 g or more with minor flaws in shape or color. Second Class applies to truffles weighing 5 to 9 g but with the aforementioned quality criteria.
Preserved truffles include: Whole—peeled or scrubbed, marked surchoix (black, uniform size, and color), extra (varying shades of black, irregular shape), or premier choix (flesh of varying degrees of firmness, irregular color, and shape). They can be from the first or second boiling (the latter truffles are boiled a second time after the truffle juice has been produced). In pieces, as skins, or scraps (trimmings). You should check the label for all of these products, because they are also subject to scams involving Chinese truffles. The label should read Tuber melanosporum. Black truffle juice can also be found, produced when the truffles are sterilized the first time. All of these indications should be found on the label or on the jar or can in which fresh black truffles have been packed, which can be bought from markets, gourmet grocery stores, or specialty websites. Black truffle is also available in other forms (paste or puree, skins, scraps, etc.). The different truffle species should be sold separately.
Black truffle is generally brushed or washed. If necessary, scrub gently with a toothbrush. To preserve its organoleptic properties, it is advisable to crush the truffle with a fork so that it gives off all of its aroma, depending on the dish. Otherwise, simply slicing with a mandoline will suffice.
Black truffle can withstand heat, but it should not be subjected to long cooking times.
Black truffle sliced finely into rounds can simply be placed on a slice of buttered bread as an appetizer or to accompany a celery soup. Black truffle slices can also enhance a mixed salad or a dish or spaghetti with Parmesan cheese. It can add flavor to scrambled eggs, mashed potatoes, and risotto. It gives body to fish terrines; white meats, such as pork and veal; and to vegetables, such as leek and peas. Black truffle can also be combined with chocolate to make fondants, or with ice mascarpone cream.
Black truffle should not be left in the open at room temperature. To preserve its flavor, it should be kept in the refrigerator in an airtight jar filled with rice to absorb moisture, or simply wrapped in paper towels, which should be changed every day. Black truffle will not keep longer than a week in the refrigerator. It can be frozen whole or in slices wrapped in aluminum foil. It will keep for about six months. Frozen black truffle can be grated over a dish to enhance its flavor. Another option is to sterilize it in jars. Making truffle butter is also an excellent means of preserving truffle.
Truffles are very high in minerals and fiber, but given the minute quantities that are consumed so infrequently, this has absolutely no importance. Black truffles have long held the reputation of being an aphrodisiac, which has never been scientifically verified, of course.
The winter truffle (Tuber brumale) has a light taste of pepper and garlic. It is not as dark as the black Périgord truffle and has larger veins. It withstands long cooking times and can be used to stuff poultry. The Burgundy truffle (Tuber uncinatum) is harvested between September and December. This fall truffle develops mushroom aromas.