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Buying truffles can be a difficult task, can’t it?
When you go shopping for truffles, you might be overwhelmed with the vast amount of information thrown at you. Trust me—I know all about how frustrating it can be!
When I first started becoming interested in truffles, I learned very quickly that it’s important to understand the differences between truffles. There’s a lot to learn about how they all hold up when it comes to cooking the best truffle recipe in the world or even just when putting them in a dish of scrambled eggs or pasta.
Of course, if you’re looking for the best truffles in the world, the job of hunting them down can be even more complicated! But when you go truffle shopping armed with plenty of information, you’ll know for sure which ones to buy without having to second-guess yourself at all.
And that’s where this article comes in! I’m here to teach you about the best truffles in the world so that your next shopping experience can be smooth and simple. Once you’ve read through this article, you’ll know everything you need to pick out the perfect truffles for your next incredible meal.
At the end of the article, I’ll also give you a few tips for buying truffles, as well as some info on the best way to eat truffles. Stick around for tons of info to help you get started in the world of amazing high-quality truffles!
What are Truffles?
The simple answer to this common question is that truffles are kind of like fancy mushrooms. But there’s so much more to them than that! Technically, a truffle isn’t exactly a mushroom at all, although it is a fungus that’s closely related to them. It isn’t a part of the mushroom family, but it does grow like most fungi. It requires a lot of moisture and damp, dark soil to thrive. It’s also very picky and probably won’t grow if the soil doesn’t have the perfect pH and isn’t exposed to all four seasons fairly equally.
Truffles are usually used in cooking, although in recent years they’ve been turning up more and more frequently in skin and health care products as well. Whenever a real truffle is used as an ingredient in anything, that product is bound to be pretty pricey. If you see something claiming that it contains truffles and still doesn’t cost a lot of money, it probably has been chemically altered to have the flavor of a truffle without actually including any.
Because of their rarity and how complicated it is to cultivate them, truffles remain a very expensive and highly sought after product that many chefs strive to use whenever possible.
Truffles in General
Determining which types of truffles are the best in the world can be a little tough, especially because of the wide variety of truffles in existence. Although they’re all pretty hard to find growing wild, and most are difficult to cultivate as well, there are still quite a few truffle variations that can make shopping for these ingredients even more challenging.
Among the many different types of truffles, you can find the two best kinds. However, it’s also important to know a little bit about truffles in general. Below, I’ll outline the other kinds of truffles you can purchase, and why they fall just a little bit short of being the best.
- Summer black truffles – These are perhaps the most common type of truffles. They’re very similar to winter black truffles, but they just don’t have quite the depth of flavor that their more popular counterparts offer. These truffles are harvested during the warmer months and are found throughout Europe. They can be more easily cultivated than other varieties.
- Oregon black truffles – In more recent years, this variety of truffle has been cultivated successfully in the Pacific Northwestern United States. This is one of the only types of truffle that can grow well in the United States since the soil and climate conditions aren’t usually quite right. Although they’re popular as locally-sourced ingredients, these truffles don’t have strong flavors like European black truffles.
- Chinese black truffles – These are much lower quality than the other types of black truffles listed here. They don’t have very strong flavors at all, and they aren’t usually used in much cooking. Mostly, Chinese black truffles are used in truffle oils and truffle butter. However, they have unfortunately been passed off as better quality truffles in some marketplaces.
- Pecan black truffles – Certain areas in the United States have seen some truffle growth on the roots of pecan trees. These truffles have a much nuttier flavor than many of the others available, and like the Oregon black truffle, chefs tend to use them as local ingredients for unique recipes. They don’t have much of a presence on the international truffle market, however.
Alba White Truffles
The most incredible type of truffle in the world is the Alba white truffle. When you think of expensive truffles that are very valuable and hard to find, this is the type of truffle that should come to mind. They’re incredibly rare, and their flavor is like nothing else in the world of cooking ingredients. But just what makes them such unique and prized products?
For starters, the Alba white truffle only grows in very specific parts of the world, and only at certain times of the year. The Alba region of Italy is home to this amazing truffle, and it can only be harvested during the late fall and early winter. When removed from the tree’s roots too early, this truffle will have no flavor at all. When removed too late, it will be rotten and mushy, and completely lacking in any desirable qualities. Picking the truffle at just the right time can be very tricky.
To this day, an Alba white truffle holds the record for the most expensive truffle ever sold. The truffle in question weighed 3.3 pounds and went at auction for one hundred thousand dollars per pound—or a total of $330,000. Nothing else has ever come close to selling for that much money in the world of cooking ingredients!
Alba white truffles don’t give off the same pungent smell that black truffles do, so they can be even harder to find without the use of dogs or pigs. Unfortunately, pigs tend to eat them when they do find them, so people usually rely on dogs to help them find these prizes. While the dogs don’t often contribute to the destruction of the truffles, it’s still next to impossible to remove one from a tree’s roots without doing some damage to it. This is why perfect specimens, like the expensive one that sold for so much at auction, can be almost priceless in value.
The flavor of an Alba white truffle is much different than anything else. It tastes a little bit like dirt and musk, with a large garlic flavor as well. Some people believe the Alba white truffle tastes like onions, while still others claim it tastes like seafood. Its smell is very much like ammonia and body odor, but this doesn’t carry over into the taste at all. The full, impressive flavor of a real Alba white truffle can add so much to a dish that chefs need only use small amounts of shaved or grated truffle to get the most out of this expensive ingredient.
There are other types of white truffles available on the market as well. They are also found in Europe, and can be located throughout Italy, parts of France, and Croatia. They’re still incredibly rare, but those that don’t come from the Alba region don’t have quite the same level of flavor or prestige. Nevertheless, a non-Alba winter white truffle is still likely to sell for a lot of money.
Perigord Black Truffles
There are a few similarities between Alba and Perigord truffles, but there are even more differences. These truffles are among the best in the world, and although they aren’t quite as valuable as the Alba truffle, they’re still very expensive and sought after on the truffle market. Among the black truffle varieties, they are by far the priciest and most desirable.
Perigord black truffles come from the Perigord region of France. They’re a winter variety, so they are usually harvested in the later part of the winter. January and February usually produce some of the best Perigord black truffles. If they’re harvested too soon, they don’t have much of a taste. Harvesting them too late means they’ll be too tough and impossible to eat. It can be hard to get them at the right time, however, because the ground tends to freeze too hard to dig by this time of the year.
Perigord truffles have a deep, earthy, musky smell, but they don’t have the type of ammonia aroma that Alba truffles sometimes have. Their flavor is much stronger overall and has been likened to chocolate and red wine with a hint of soil and nuttiness. It’s just as hard to find perfect specimens of these truffles as it is with Alba truffles and for much the same reasons. Because of this, and because of how rare the Perigord truffle is to find, it sells for hundreds of dollars per truffle, depending on the quality of the individual specimen.
Like the Alba truffle, the Perigord truffle also has a slightly lower quality version. The winter black truffle is almost the same as a Perigord black truffle, but it is found in other parts of Europe outside of the Perigord region. It’s located throughout France, as well as in certain parts of England and Italy. It doesn’t have as strong of a flavor, and it isn’t as valuable simply because of where it can be found. This type of truffle still sells for a pretty hefty sum, but its price is usually much lower than that of a Perigord black truffle.
How to Choose a Quality Truffle
Shopping for truffles can be tricky! Keep these tips in mind to pick a quality truffle specimen every time you go looking.
- Pick a truffle that seems to weigh the right amount for its size. If it seems very heavy, it may be filled with dirt, which can increase the price without increasing the value. If it’s very light, it might be starting to rot or dry out.
- Choose a truffle with a strong smell. It shouldn’t smell like it’s rotting, but it might smell like ammonia, so be careful when sniffing your truffle.
- Look for holes or damage to your truffle. Natural holes and indentations are fine, but be sure they aren’t packed with dirt. Also check for deep scarring or veins in the truffle, as these can be signs of damage or early rot.
- Give the truffle a gentle squeeze. If it’s too hard, it isn’t any good. If it’s too soft, it might have decayed already. You’re looking for just a little give, without sinking your fingers into the truffle.
Bonus: The Best Way to Eat a Truffle
Both types of high-quality truffles have different methods of cooking that make them taste great and showcase their flavor and texture. Check out these tips to give you some suggestions for the next time you plan to taste test a truffle.
- Perigord truffles can be fully cooked. They’re sturdy and tough, and they can stand up to higher temperatures without falling apart or losing their flavor. You can cook them into just about anything, and even bake them on top of a pizza, without running the risk of damaging the truffle in any way.
- Alba truffles should be served raw or barely heated. Unlike Perigord truffles, Alba truffles can’t withstand much in the way of heat. When you cook an Alba truffle, it’s likely to become mushy and soft, and it will lose its flavor very quickly. You can gently heat them up just to the temperature of the food you’re cooking, but otherwise, they should be served raw.
- Perigord truffles can be sliced, chopped, or otherwise cut. Since they’re durable ingredients, they are easy to work with. Their texture is similar to that of a standard mushroom, which means that you can generally use them in many of the same ways as a mushroom. You don’t have to worry about damaging your truffle, but remember that a little bit goes a long way.
- Alba truffles should be shaved or grated only. Since they’re very powerful in taste, you don’t need a lot of Alba truffle to bring the flavor you want to your dish. They’re also very delicate, and should be handled with care. Because of this, they work best when grated or finely shaved. You can even buy special truffle shavers to make paper-thin slices of these truffles.
- Perigord truffles pair well with other bold flavors. Their own flavor is very powerful and goes well with just about any other strong, savory taste in your cooking. They’re often used in Italian foods, but they can be incorporated into just about anything. They add a lot of rustic flavor to your food, and they won’t be overpowered by other ingredients.
- Alba truffles should be the central focus of the dish. Their delicate taste and aroma both can be overpowered easily. When you have such an expensive ingredient in your recipes, you don’t want that to happen! You really want to let the Alba truffle take center stage in your cooking, so be sure not to pair it with anything too strong. It goes best with a simple pasta or even scrambled eggs.
It’s time to go shopping! Now that you’ve read through this article, you should have all the information you need to go looking for the best truffles in the world. Although you might have to shell out quite a lot of money to get perfect samples of the best varieties of truffle on the market, you have a few options to help you save a little along the way. If you can’t afford full-size fresh Alba or Perigord truffles, be sure to look around for frozen whole ones or jarred slices instead.
Remember, too, that if you buy a truffle product such as truffle butter or oil, you probably won’t be experiencing the incredible flavor that comes along with these two top truffles. These products, when they are made with real truffles at all, are usually put together with lower quality ingredients that still taste very good, but can’t measure up to their most valuable counterparts.
Now that you know all about the top types of truffles in the world, you can make a well-informed decision the next time you go shopping. Keep all of this information in mind, and remember the best ways to eat these truffles, too. Pretty soon, you’ll be enjoying incredible truffles with your meals all the time!