It’s that time of year again. The Fiera del Tartufo is in full swing, and wouldn’t I like to be there? Or even better, fossicking around the Alban or Umbrian hills with a beagle in the crisp autumn air, trying to find that white gold myself… Ahh, I love truffles, and for me, it’s the white ones that have me cornered, but here’s a rundown on the different types for you, so you can make up your own mind. At the end, I’ve also included some information on where to get your truffles in Dubai, and some events you might want to keep an eye out for.
White (Alba) Truffles
Latin name: Tuber magnatum
Appearance: Not white – more pinky/beige tending toward creamy yellow with darker areas in the crevices. A little brain-like with fewer and larger lobes, or maybe a bit like a very lumpy potato. Centre is marble-like, usually the same or similar colour to the outside – and quite grained like a pale piece of wagyu. Usually about the size of a golf ball, but also found in frequency up to around potato size, and very occasionally up to three times that size.
Flavour: Soft but strong, lightly earthy and herbacious, like a meadow just after rain, then musky, garlicky and sometimes peppery in the background. Touched with sweetness, and usually served raw and shaved to take advantage of this. Loses its flavour quite quickly as the trapped gasses inside the tuber are freed.
Harvested: Alba in Northern Italy is the most famous area, but also into Tuscany and Marche/Umbria, and across and down the Istrian peninsular into Croatia. An Autumn/Winter product, available from October to January, depending on the season.
Selling price: $2500 per kg and up (nearly half the price of 2 years ago)
Interesting to know: Found with the assistance of dogs, not pigs. The most commonly found white truffle from Umbria and south is actually the Tuber borchii or ‘whitish truffle’, which is less pungent and more garlicky.
Black (Perigord) Truffles
Latin name: Tuber melanosporum
Appearance: Charcoal-black and covered in tiny bumps. Not as knobbly as the white truffles, and can be quite round. Varies in size from hazelnut-sized up to about tennis-ball sized, and can be over a kilogram, but not usually as large as the whites. Interior is dark-brown to violet, and heavily marbled with a creamy grain
Flavour: More intense than the white at first, but less persistent. Earthy, woody, tending to cocoa/mocha, and also usually a bit peppery. Definitely funkier, especially when cooked (black truffles are not as good raw).
Harvested: The most highly prized Perigord truffles are found in the southern french areas around Provence and Languedoc, then Spain and Italy, but now they are farmed (as much as a wild product can be farmed) successfully in other parts the world including in Slovenia and Australia. A later Winter product, available from December to March (Or June to September in the Southern hemisphere), depending on the season.
Selling price: $2000 per kg and up, depending on the size
Interesting to know: Truffle pigs need to be whacked over the head when they find a truffle, otherwise they will eat it (unlike dogs). Black truffles grow best under hazelnut and oak trees. The flavour or a black truffle is enhanced with freezing. Best time to buy is February, when the perfume is at its strongest.
Burgundy (Bourgogne) Truffles
Latin name: Tuber uncinatum
Appearance: Similar in appearance to a black truffle, but a little larger, with bigger bumpy nodules and is lighter inside (almost as pale as a white truffle when sliced)
Flavour: Similar profile to black truffles, but with a sweet grainy/nutty aroma rather than forest floor, and a less pungent intensity. Better raw than cooked, but also very good for infusing into blander pantry items (e.g. oil, flour, rice)
Harvested: Quite readily found all over Europe, from Sweden even down to the top of North Africa. Found from September-December, sometimes into January
Selling price: less than $1000 per kg depending on the quality/origin
Interesting to know: The burgundy truffle often substitutes the Perigord, because it is similar in flavour and appearance, but more prolific and much cheaper. If it’s black-rimmed and pale on the inside, and grated on top of your pasta, it’s not a ‘black truffle’.
Latin name: Tuber aestivum
Appearance: hard to tell apart from a Burgundy Truffle, but slightly browner on the outside, and paler still on the inside.
Flavour: The mildest of all the truffles, slightly nutty with ozone undertones. Firm texture. Very mild persistence of flavour, so it’s the truffle for people who don’t want a really truffley truffle.
Harvested: All over France, Italy and Spain, now quite prolific in Transylvania. As the name suggests, available from around May to September.
Selling price: less than $1000 per kg (usually much less) depending on quality/origin/season
Interesting to know: It was discovered in 2004 that this has exactly the same molecular structure as the Burgundy truffle, despite having some distinct differences in taste and appearance. It has been found that the only causes of this is the harvest season and environmental influences.
Latin name: Terfezia
Appearance: Varies greatly, from dark reddish-brown to pale like a white truffle, from the size of a walnut to a large potato, can be knobbly or almost smooth. The interior is usually pale, and tends to lack the intense marbling of the other truffles.
Flavour: Milder than a mushroom, with the texture between a potato and blanched artichoke. Can be rubbery, so better cooked slowly/stewed. The flavour profile varies depending on the particular species, but tends to be on the mealy/nutty end of the spectrum.
Harvested: Hot Mediterranean areas and into the deserts of North Africa and Arabia. Spring is the best time to buy, from December to April.
Selling price: from $10 to $200 per kg depending on quality/origin/season
Interesting to know: Desert Truffles are a different family to the Tuber truffles, but they are distantly related. They require very careful washing, particularly late in the season, as they will take in the sand/earth they are growing in. It is believed by some that desert truffles require a lightning strike to spawn. More information from Gulf News here.
Truffles in Dubai
- Umai at the Oberoi are putting on a truffle menu with a difference – fusing what is generally considered to be an Italian ingredient (the white Alban truffle), and Japanese cuisine. Don’t knock it until you try it – and remember that the shiitake mushroom is a common ingredient in Japanese cooking, as are many other forms of fungus. Highlights are the wagyu with truffles, a super truffle tofu custard with foie, and believe it or not, the dessert, which absolutely blew me away (pictured).
- Ronda Locatelli have a special truffle menu running all month. Locatelli prefers to use an Umbrian White Truffle (yes, it’s the real white truffle, not the ‘whitish’ truffle) from San Pietro a Pettine (more info below). The menu is classic and simple, relying on fresh flavours and excellent ingredients in typical Giorgio Locatelli style.
- Postano will be hosting Michelin Starred Chef Angelo Sabatelli and a black truffle menu on November 15 as part of the Italian Cuisine Summit.
- Roberto’s have the Enrico Bartolini Gala Truffle Dinner occurring on November 11. This one focuses on the white truffle, and of course, the styling of another Michelin starred Italian Chef here for the summit.
- Certo will be celebrating with their Alba White Truffle Promotion from 16 to 30 November, whereby some special new dishes are added to the menu.
Buying Fresh Truffles
- Ramelli bring in both fresh truffles and the oils, honeys etc, but only stock produce from northern Italy. Their truffles were on the menu recently when I tasted the offering at Umai, and are very high quality. Most fresh truffles find their way to restaurants, but there’s no harm in contacting Romulus from Ramelli, I’m sure he’ll be able to help.
- Italtouch sell both European and Australian product, white, black and summer truffles meaning you can get fresh ones fairly continuously through the year. There are also some flash frozen truffles, and plenty of other by-products including oils and 23 karat gold-flaked honey. The largest restaurant truffle supplier in Dubai.
- Secrets fine food have a retail and home delivery arm, and are selling fresh Alba white truffles and flash-frozen Perigord truffles
- Gourmet House sell a variety of truffles, and you can even order the fresh ones online. At present they only have the Burgundy and Summer fresh truffles listed, but I’m sure it won’t be long until the Alba whites find their way onto the list.
- Umbria – It’s possible to stay on the estate and join Carlo Caporicci and his dogs for a hunt at San Pietro a Pettine
- Alba – Italianna do guided truffle hunts in Alba, Langhe and Roero
- Australia – You can join the Truffle and Wine Co. and their golden labrador in Manjimup, Western Australia for a hunt for black truffles in the Australian winter (June – Aug)
- Perigord – a private tour with dogs (not pigs being whacked on the head thankfully), can be organised through Truffe-Perigord, who also have gites for an overnight, and truffle discovery menus.
- Provence – Les Pastras offer truffle walks with their little dogs in both Summer and Winter, with the added bonus of some Champagne and olive oil tastings
- Dubai – Nothing is formal as yet, because unfortunately desert truffles in the UAE are rare, however if you keep in touch with Arva at Frying Pan Tours, she’s sure to have something on if we get a good season.