You might associate the much sought-after delicacy of black truffles with European countries like Italy and France, and not with our corner of the world. But since the nineties, an increase has been seen in the production of Black Perigord (tuber melanosporum) truffles throughout most of our regions, inspiring festivals and new culinary treats for those who otherwise would not have experienced it.
The History of Truffles
Truffles have been a popular ingredient since ancient Greek times – Aristotle and Pythagoras both agreed that it had aphrodisiacal properties. Rasputin recommended that the Tsar should consume them for lineage strength and Napoleon reportedly ate them before going into battle. The history of the truffle has shown that many great men and women favoured it; in fact, only the church put up a resistance against this blackened fungus that grew unpredictably in the dead of winter.
The South of France was the true birthplace of Black Perigord truffles, and have enjoyed much success in the region and beyond as one of the most expensive delicacies in the world (as judged by weight). It’s only in the last twenty years that the tradition of truffle farming has travelled over here, where we are lucky enough to harvest in our winter – the exact time that in France the sun is shining bright. The “black diamonds” are harvested between May and August although June and July are the optimal months.
What Do Truffles Taste Like?
The word that’s most commonly used to describe the taste of black truffles is “umami” – a pleasant, savoury flavour that is one of the five main tastes. They pair up wonderfully with steaks, fish and shellfish, pasta and potatoes, and go especially well with fatty foods like egg and butter – many truffle sites will recommend mixing grated truffle into scrambled eggs to really bring out the flavour. They shouldn’t be used in anything with an overpowering flavour however, as their taste can be quite subtle and with such an expensive ingredient, not tasting it would be a waste.
Prices of black truffles can vary quite wildly, depending on how many were harvested, the atmospheric conditions, their grading and the current demand – although considering their very narrow harvest period, demand is likely to always be high. Usually, prices range between $1000 and $2000 for a kilogram and as a point of reference, a one hundred gram truffle is roughly the size of a tennis ball. As a general rule you will need at least five grams to make a difference in a main dish.
As they are so difficult to store, they often need to bought and eaten quickly, at least within three weeks; and for every day they aren’t eaten, they lose some of their mass. They also continuously emit odours when exposed to air, which is why it is usually advised to keep them in a dry, air-tight container such as a sealed glass jar and in an absorbent foodstuff like rice to keep them completely free of moisture, which will rot them. They can also be stored in with eggs or flavourless oil to pass on their unique taste, or made into truffle butter, truffle salt or even truffle honey!
If you’ve now got a hunger for some delicious Perigord truffles, you may be in luck as several big truffle events are happening in the upcoming month. Manjimup’s Truffle Kerfuffle takes place every year in the Southern Forests, which is where 70% of Australia’s black truffles are found, following just a few weeks after the Truffle Festival in Canberra and Capital Region. Both give visitors a chance to hunt and dig up the precious black diamonds (with the aid of sniffer dogs or pigs) and try truffles in this unique environment; straight from the ground. If that is too far for you to go, during the same time many suppliers will be selling truffles online, which you could use to cook up a special treat at home!