Tuesday, 10 June 2008

The Scent of the Black Truffle

A lunch is coming to an end. The table is cleared but shows signs of serious enjoyment. Good friends prepare to part, faces glowing from fine food, good wines. There is a closeness that sometimes sparks over a fine meal. The diners are restored.

On making their farewells one friend turns to her companion and says, “That was stunning, and I can’t quite put my finger on it but the cook has really sparked tonight.” They are puzzled, excited. The night still holds a promise. Quite often when we use truffles in dishes this scenario is played out.
The mere mention of truffles to the uninitiated stirs a mystery. As the puzzle unfolds like with all fine flavours the mystery continues, ever changing. One does not tire of it, merely adding echoes that resonate occasionally when conditions are right.

At first there is the question of what do they taste like. There is no simple answer. They taste like truffles; but it’s the character they impart to other foods that really makes them shine. I remember the first time I tasted real vanilla - fresh thick pods. Try this; take a fresh vanilla bean, block your nostrils with one hand, taste the pod - it tastes like citrus, acidic, slightly bitter sweet but not vanilla. Release your nostrils and the full flavour and aroma is released. Vanilla - interesting but linear. But wait. Poach a peach in sugar syrup, taste - fine - now add the vanilla bean, scraped seeds from the pod. Let it steep and a balanced full palate of flavours emerge. For me this is the way to use truffles.

For example, prepare a great game stock, clarified, finished. Add some freshly chopped black Perigord truffle. Let it steep. Do not over heat; cover. As with the peaches a new level of sublime complexity is reached.

Some people can pick the aroma at a great distance, others are baffled, confused, somehow cheated. Unfortunately we do not have a well defined spectrum for our sense of smell, but very light scents can trigger rich memories and strong reactions, some very physical. Scientists have identified Androstenol, a hormone in truffles. This aroma is very effective in small doses, unashamedly sexy. The perigord black winter truffle (Tuber Melsanosporum has an aroma that I would describe as extremely penetrating but not overtly strong.

The Italian winter white (Tuber Magnatum Pico) from Alba is undoubtedly stronger, perhaps that is why its often preferred, but sadly the aroma is elusive and cannot sustain heat. It has to be used raw, added at the last minute. It is earthy with echoes of baked garlic, forests - immediate, loud and magnificent.

The argument is to which is better for me does not warrant discussion. Do we compare morels, which must be cooked, to porcini, which can be eaten raw or cooked? I am very happy with either at any time.

In hushed tones......

The first truffles grown in the Otways are here, such excitement 3 kg so far, the largest harvest in Victoria as far as I know... will post more later……


grocer said...

I enjoy your blog - I learn little bits and pieces that one usually can only glean by standing at the door to a professional kitchen.

This post also brings a sensual experience and was absolutely delightful to read.

It appealed to something that I rarely share with others - my sense of smell, which can arouse experiences of which I have no memories.

Jack said...

George, I think I can smell them from here! (and I'm in St Kilda)Very exciting.
Make sure you let us know when they are on your menu!

Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...

Thanks Jack they will be on the menu for as long as the season lasts possibly a month or more, also making masses of truffled duck confit for later, This is the best way that I have found for keeping them,-hiding in the flavour of the duck fat added after the temperature drops bellow 70 degrees C then vacuuming them with the fat.

t h e - g o b b l e r said...

G'day George-I have used a truffle here that has emerged from the roots of some Spanish Hazelnut trees that were planted about 15 years ago. What interests me about your post is that notion of the Alba truffle not handling the heat very wel which is what these truffles did also.
I used them with eggs, pasta & risotto, freshly shaved, their contact with a mild warmth released a burst of ofalcatory frission & excitement.

Sunnybrae and all who sail in her said...

Hello Gobbler
the truffle world is indeed populated by many varieties, at the time of innoculation sometimes rogue species are present that may form an association. It would be interesting to take a sample to an expert for a good look under a microscope. As far as i know there has not been a succesful planned cultivation of the white Alba [tuber magnatun pico] which is one of the reasons it is so expensive. But thats what they said about the Perigord truffle not that many years ago and the French have been doing that for decades. I know that I will be putting in trees this year.
I had some black from Tasmania last year and it was really excellent. I also learned this week that there may be many different truffles under the same tree with maturity of each coming at different times. But its the aroma and flavour thats so exciting especially here as I thought it was not cold enough in this locality,

Another Outspoken Female said...

I loved reading your truffle piece in Epicure. Hope to read more of your work there in the future. I have only ever had one truffle flavoured mouthful in my life to date - I guess that means I have yet another reason to live, in anticipation of the next :)