It’s one thing to have truffles shaved over steak at a restaurant, but it’s another to buy truffles yourself. The truth is, if you’re really into truffles, you can make a little go a long way if you buy them for home. Here are a few tips.
If you’re not a restaurant, buy off-sizes and pieces.
Truffles are priced and sold by size and shape. The rounder the truffle, the more coveted it is—but the quality is the same. Truffles are a wild product, so it’s common for rocks and sticks to misshape them as they grow.
For chefs, the really round truffles yield that perfect slice, so restaurants always want the roundest truffles. If you’re not operating a three-star Michelin restaurant, you don’t need perfectly round truffles. Here are some grades of truffles:
Extra Class – These are perfectly round and over 1 oz in size.
First Class – These have the same aromas and flavors, but they are more irregular in shape.
Truffle Pieces – These start as whole, intact truffles but they either break when they are dug up or a soft spot on the truffle is cut away. They are still very fragrant and perfectly good to use, but the shelf life is about 25% less because they are cut away.
Trimming – These are heavily cut pieces that often come when we cut a little knick into whole truffles to take a look at the internal marbling so we know they’re ripe.
Depending on what you’re doing, you can easily go with some of these lower grades. Truffle trimming is also a great option if you’re mixing truffles into something where you wouldn’t need whole pieces.
How you store your truffle is everything.
If you’ve ever bought truffles, chances are someone has told you to store them in rice. But truffles are expensive. You pay per ounce. You want to get as much truffle out of them as possible—so why would you store them in something that will pull out all the moisture?
Storing truffles in rice can reduce shelf life by over 50%. And when we’re only talking about a 5 to 10 day life to begin with, every precious day counts.
The best bet is to take your truffle, wrap it in a dry paper towel, and store it in a sealed, refrigerated place with something that has a lot of fat in it. Eggs are a great option. You could also do cheese, cream, oil, or really any fat. The aromas from the truffles will bind to the fats, passing through the permeable shells of the eggs, and add truffle flavors.
It’s important to understand regions—and to smell often.
Truffles are expensive because they are still so rare, and the process of picking them is so intensive. Still, the best way to get truffles is to find them naturally.
White truffles have far greater aroma and depth of flavor, but they are harder to find—they are only found in the wild. They have never been successfully cultivated. They’re too strong for some people, who actually prefer a black truffle’s more subtle notes. Black truffles have been cultivated with some success, which makes them more available and less expensive.
Cultivating truffles is a tricky business. You essentially have to dip saplings into a truffle puree, which colonizes tree roots of baby trees, and then they plant them in soil with the perfect pH. After that, you have to wait 7 to 10 years for the tree to be mature enough. It’s a long waiting game, and there’s no perfect science. Because of that, many truffles are still found naturally and always using truffle dogs, which can pinpoint where truffles are and which ones are right to pick.
The best region for black truffles right now is Spain. We get ours from Aragon. France is largely depleted of the best truffles, and black truffles from Italy, the other big region people know, are far less potent. There are actually some great truffles in the United States from the Pacific Northwest, but there’s no tradition for picking truffles there, so they are often immature or unripe. Spain is probably the best bet.
Other than region, the best way to know if a truffle is good or not is to smell it. Aroma is the number one thing. Smell every single truffle you buy and make sure it’s firm and has an intense aroma. If you’re new to truffles—one of the best ways to learn more about the aroma is to grab a truffle from someone you trust, and smell it a lot. Remember it.