What are truffles?
Truffles have always been revered and date as far back as 1600 B.C. These special funghi are known as the “diamonds of the earth.”
Truffles are ectomycorrihzal fungi. They live in a symbiotic (mutually beneficial) relationship with the roots of certain living trees. Most common trees that form truffles: Oak, Hazelnut, and Poplar.
There are about 200 species of truffles. Truffles follow the binomial system to best determine species. The most revered truffles are the Aestivum Vitt, Uncinatum, Magnatum Pico, and Melanosporum. Truffles follow the binomial system to best determine the species. These truffles are found in France, Italy, and Australia. The White Truffle is found only in Italy.
How much do fresh truffles cost?
It is impossible to give an actual cost of truffles. Truffles prices are volatile, it depends on numerous factors like temperature, quantity, and quality to determine pricing. The fresh market price changes every week! But we've created a chart below to show you the average truffle cost among the species.
$- least expensive, $$$$- most expensive
Fresh Black Summer Truffles (Tuber Aestivum) - $$
Fresh Burgundy Truffles (Tuber Uncinatum)- $$
Fresh Black Winter Truffles (Tuber Melanosporum Vitt) - $$$
Fresh White Truffles (Tuber Magnatum) - $$$$
How do truffles grow?
Truffles grow in the wild. There has been scientific advancement to inoculate the spores of certain trees to produce truffles, thus creating a truffle plantation, which helps provide a larger bounty of truffles. However, scientists have yet to be able to succeed in doing this with the white truffle, which is why it is the most expensive, as it’s the hardest to grow and find.
How do you find truffles?
Pigs were the original truffle hunter, however, dogs have largely replaced pigs in the truffle hunting world. Pigs are attracted to the pheromones that truffles release, due to the similar compounds that mirror testosterone found in pigs (which is why we think of it as an aphrodisiac), and would therefore, naturally hunt for them. However, due the extreme excitement of the pig, and their erratic digging method, they end up destroying the environment and eating those precious truffles. Due to the environmental impact, Pigs have been banned in Italy for truffle hunting since 1985.
Dogs have been introduced, because they can be trained to find the exact location of the truffle, do not disrupt the ecosystem, and are not attracted to it.
The preferred breed for a truffle hunting dog in Italy is the Lagattto Romognolo. However, any breed can become a truffle hunter, and other breeds commonly used are pointers and braccos.
How long do Truffles last?
Truffles are living organisms. They have a short shelf life. It is best to consume immediately. The Black Summer, Burgundy, and Black Winter have a longer shelf life (5-7 days) than the White Truffle (2-3 days).
How do I store fresh truffles?
There is a mysterious element to truffles, as there is so much unpredictability in the harvest. Time, energy, and love go into hunting for these gems of the kitchen.
Therefore, you must take proper care of your truffles, to bring its true magnificence to your guests. Store truffles individually in paper towels and place them into a sealed container. Each day, re-wrap in new paper towels, to keep the truffles dry.
What tool should I use for the fresh truffles?
You can use a variety of tools to serve your fresh truffles. For shaving truffles, you can purcahse a truffle slicer or you can use a mandoline. If you have great knfie skills, you can also thinly slice the truffles. For grating truffles, you can use a cheese grater. For chopped truffles, you can use your chefs knife to rough chop or finely mince your truffles.
What do Truffles pair well with?
Truffles go well with everything, such as seafood, meats, eggs, pasta, risotto, potatoes, and cream sauces. Commonly they can be found paired with dishes that are more subtle in flavor, to be able to pick up on the special truffle flavor.
Here at Sabatino, we are all about truffles. So our love of truffles expand even beyond our fresh truffles, into a range of preserved products like truffle oils, truffle butter, truffle salt, and truffle honey.
Story of The Truffle Hunter and His Dogs
An hour before the sun rises; Renzo and his dogs Frida, Rocco, and Ringo begin their journey deep into the forests to hunt for one of the world’s most precious ingredients- truffles.
The forest is quiet, completely serene. The only sounds heard are the slight rustling of trees from the wind and birds, and the crunching sticks and leaves as Renzo and his dogs trek through.
The forest is dark at this hour, barely any light passing through the trees. The world has not woken up yet, and Renzo and his dogs get a head start.
Legally, a truffle hunter has only 2 hours to hunt for truffles. They begin an hour before the sun rises, and in these short hours, the dogs have to be completely focused and diligent.
Renzo grew up truffle hunting- his father and grandfather were truffle hunters. This isn’t a job, but a way of life. This is the life Renzo knows and loves. As a young boy, Renzo would walk through the forests with his father, learning the ways from a master truffle hunter.
Renzo, like many other truffle hunters, love the white truffle season. This is the most prestigious truffle, which makes the game of hunting all the more fun. There is more excitement in the air, and if you pay close attention, you can smell a light touch of garlic aroma permeating through the forest as the white truffles become ripe and ready to eat.
All of Renzo’s childhood pets were dogs – dogs with a duty. Every dog in the home was for the purpose of truffle hunting. He grew up with many, and many breeds. The most popular is the Lagotto Romagnolo, but Pointers and Braccos are desired breeds as well.
These dogs have a long family lineage of truffle hunting. A hunter invests his time, money, energy, and love into creating the best truffle-seeking dogs. Although these dogs come from strong family lines, it does not necessarily mean they will become a good truffle seeker.
These dogs begin their training just a few months after they are born. They follow their parents through the forest, to learn the ways of the truffle hunt. They witness the bond between hunter and dog, and the ultimate joy of finding these hidden treasures. Typically, the work span for an established truffle-seeking dog is between 2-8 years of age.
Renzo’s 3 dogs vary in age, and although each dog is a skilled hunter, they all have completely different personalities. Frida, a Lagotto Romagnolo, is 5 years old. She is very calm compared to her brothers, and frequently wags her tail to show her excitement.
Rocco, a Pointer, is almost 4 years old. He loves to jump. When he’s excited, he will jump so high, you can almost look him straight in the eye!
And then there’s Ringo. Ringo, a Pointer, is almost 10 years old. He will do just about anything for a good belly rub. Although he has passed the typical age of hunting, he is still very skilled and determined. However, in the recent months, he has become slightly deaf.
When a dog finds a truffle, there is a command yelled and the dog knows to stop digging, as to not ruin the exterior of the truffle. However, in Ringo’s case, Renzo walks up close to him, bends down, and lifts up his ear. He speaks into his ear, and tells his friend that he can stop digging.
These dogs work very hard, and after their focused hunt, they go home and relax. Their time is always spent with the truffle hunter and his family. They are like any other dogs, and love to play fetch and chew on delicious snacks and toys. Most of the time they are sleeping, as they need to rest up for their arduous duties as truffle seekers.
Truffle Legend from Perigod region
Story adapted from Taming the Truffle by Alessandra Zambonelli, Gordon Thomas Brown, and Ian Robert Hall
There is a legend that is told in the perigord region about an old woman, tired and hungry, losing her way in the woods. At last she stumbles upon an old house, the home of a man equally poor and old. He invites her in and offers her his meager meal of charred potatoes, cooked in the coals of a dying ﬁre. The old woman is deeply touched by his generosity and sits down to peel the potatoes. Suddenly she is transformed into a beautiful fairy. “do not be alarmed old man,” she says. “I am the fairy of the woods. You are a kind and noble person and from these poor potatoes, which you have humbly shared with me, will come the end of your trials and tribulations.” Before his eyes the charred potatoes are transformed into richly flavored truffles. Despite becoming wealthy and respected throughout the region, the old man continues to be kind and helpful to all those less fortunate than himself, but the same cannot be said for his children. They grew up spoiled and lazy, and when many years later the good fairy returns, disguised as an old woman, they refused her hospitality and food. To punish them, the fairy buries all of the truffles underground and turns the selﬁsh children into pigs to root them out.