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Truffles 101 -- Please Help


Vicious Wadd
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After eyeing the locked case of black truffles at my local Wegman's for 2 years ($999 per lb. was damned intimidating). I finally took the plunge and bought a couple small ones last weekend. All told, they set me back $20. Not bad, considering a couple of servings of meat and fish can easily cost a much or more.

I experimented with them in a couple ways I will share in a moment; but first, I have some truffle 101 questions I thought you could help me with:

1. Is Wegmans a good place to buy these things?

2. How do you determine how "fresh" a truffle is?

3. How long will they keep?

4. What should a good/fresh truffle taste like?

5. What does an old/ stale truffle taste like?

6. Is $999 per lb. the going rate?

7. Do I need to clean them before I use them? If so, how?

8. How many shavings should you put in per serving?

And now my experiments:

Experiment #1:

After getting the truffles home, I put them in a small tupperware with 5 eggs. After sitting overnight, I scrambled the eggs the next morning for breakfast in a double boiler. Results: Yum. Though subtle, you could detect the truffle flavor on the "finish" (to borrow a wine term) of the eggs, along the back and sides of the tongue.

Experiment #2:

Took said tupperware (now free of eggs) and put one stick of butter in with the truffles (wrapping removed, of course). Let sit overnight. Results: Truffle aroma had, in fact, permeated butter. All set for experiment #3...

Experiment #3(a):

Mushroom risotto. I used the truffle-infused butter, as well as some white truffle oil, in the final dish. After plating, I used a truffle shaver to shave slices of fresh truffle on top. Results: Not what I expected. Until the truffles were exposed to the moisture and heat of the risotto, they tasted a bit bland and wood-chippy. So contrary to the instructions in the risotto recipe, the truffles would have been better added to the dish before plating, allowed to steam a bit, and then served.

Experiment #3(b):

Ate some of the fresh truffle shavings while I was dressing the risotto. Results: "Hmmmm.... (chew, chew) 1,000 bucks a pound for a pair of used gym socks? I could have dug those out of the laundry for free! And are these supposed to be THIS dry? (picking up another slice) Okay, am I tasting "earthy," or is it more like... musty? Note to self: seek help on egullet ASAP."

Thanks in advance for your replies and assistance!

- VD

Edited by Vicious Wadd (log)
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If you bought real black french winter truffles (Tuber Melansporum), I belive the price was pretty decent.

My local store charges the double, although their markup is always pretty steep.

In the U.S. one should look carefully at a truffle labeled "winter truffle" because that term is sometimes used to describe truffles that are grown during winter truffle season (summer truffles are not as good) but are from Burgundy, China, Oregon or someplace not either Perigord or Provence and are not true Tuber Melansporum. Sometimes they are, so just look twice.

I was talking to a chef the other day and he was talking about $1000/lb wholesale (or was it kilo?) so you got a decent deal. (He was also kind enough to shave a pretty huge quantity onto my macaroni and cheese for a low, low price, bless the boy).

Always smell truffles. They should smell strong and nasty. Also look for soft spots and bits of rot which would show that they're on their last legs.

I wouldn't keep them much more than a week, especiall if they're as small as yours must be (a third of an ounce)

Old stale truffles taste like cardboard.

Brushing is fine or a quick wash.

Shave lots on. Very thin. Better to get one extra-truffle-y dish eaten than two that make you wonder what the fuss is about. My new best friend made sure that my mac and cheese was pretty well covered with a little bit of overlap.

I am with you, btw, if finding that truffles not exposed to a little warmth and moisture can disappoint. I also think this is one reason for shaving them so thin -- almost translucent: the natural heat and moisture of the dish you're serving can help the truffles "release" without having to treat them too harshly.

I'm on the pavement

Thinking about the government.

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1. Is Wegmans a good place to buy these things?

I did the same thing a couple years ago here, and in my experience, the answer to this is a resounding "no." In general they have been sitting there for weeks, if not months. Wegman's does not turn them over fast enough to get fresh ones. If you buy them the first day or two they are stocked (when the case is very full) you can probably find some good ones, but after that, they will generally be relatively stale and flavorless. At least, that was my experience.

Chris Hennes
Director of Operations
chennes@egullet.org

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Wegmans bills that their truffles are from Burgundy. Nevertheless, I would not recommend buying from them. As Chris Hennes points out, the turn over simply isn't fast enough. Between the olfactory assault that is commercial truffle oil and substandard offerings from the likes of Wegmans, WF and most Dean and Deluca,it's difficult for home cooks to get their hands on good truffles. Save your money and spring the $40 for shaved truffles at a good restaurant.

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Wegmans bills that their truffles are from Burgundy....

Then they are Burgundy truffles (!), which is a variety that has less developed aroma and taste than black Perigord truffles but still has culinary use.

I bough fresh locally (swedish) grown burgundy truffles a couple of months ago. They were very good shaved over a risotto. Price was actually a little bit less than what Wegman charged.

Stockholm's most prestigeous resturant at the moment, Mathias Dahlgren at Grand Hotel, serves the local burgundy truffles when they are in season. Part of the "locally grown, seasonal" movement of course.

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I recently bought fresh truffles here in France, where the price was 1000 Euros a kilo, which is something like $800 a pound. That was straight from the producer, so I imagine that by the time they got to the US they'd be at least double, if not triple that cost. They looked like this, nice and plump, but even so they were a bit dry. This was reported to be a bad year for truffles, with a drier than normal summer, so if your truffles came from France some dryness by the time they made it to you wouldn't be at all surprising.

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