Truffles & Truffle Oils

Truffles have a long history. Since at least the times of the Greeks and Romans, these wonderous fungi have been used in Europe as gourmet delicacies, as aphrodisiacs, and as medicines.

The very mention of truffles conjures up wonderful and tastey images of the French black truffle from the Périgord region of southwest France, used in making pâté de foie gras, or the renowned white truffle of Alba, in the Piedmont district of Italy.

Not only are they found in Europe they are also found in North America. However, only three species are of commercial importance. There are many other different varieties of subterranean fungi, "false truffles," which outwardly resemble the ones we eat. They are much more common than the ones that are collected for food, and some are poisonous.

The flavor of the truffle is directly related to its aroma. This aroma develops only after the spores are mature enough to be released. They must be collected only at the proper time or they will have little to no taste. This aroma is the only sure indication that the mushrooms are ready to be harvested and is why animals, with their keen sense of smell, have proven to be the best means of assuring that the fungi collected will be flavorful.

Truffle oil is rather new to the gourmet market. Commercial truffle oil was first introduced in the 1980s. Before that, chefs in France and Italy made their own by steeping bits of fresh truffle in olive oil. Both black and white truffle oils are available.

When using truffle oil, you should plan ahead. Truffle oil does lose its aroma over time. However, it is so delightful that you should have no trouble using it before the aroma fades. The ways it can be used are limited only by your own imagination. Try it in salad dressings, with scrambled eggs, or even in mashed potatos.

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