Truffles 101: The Elusive Fungus

black truffle

Few ingredients are more expensive and alluring than the truffle! Consumed as a delicacy throughout history, truffles have been revered for their flavor, rarity and aphrodisiac properties. Growing hidden among the roots of oak, hazelnut and beech trees, many of the world’s truffles are found in Italy, France and elsewhere in Europe.


French gourmand Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin aptly dubbed truffles “the diamond of the kitchen”. An evolution of the Latin word tuber,  meaning “swelling” or “lump”, truffles are indeed bulbous and misshapen, bearing little resemblance to other mushrooms in the fungi family. They are also one of the most costly foods in the world, fetching upwards of $3,000 per pound. Now, that’s a fancy mushroom.

Gettin’ Down and Dirty

You might ask, Why so expensive? Like many gourmet products, their extraordinary expense is directly related to their limited supply and the labor required to harvest them. Truffles occur naturally and have traditionally been foraged. (Truffle cultivation, although possible, remains a tricky business.) Since truffles grow out of plain sight, trufficulteurs, or truffle hunters, need to employ the help of animals – historically pigs, though more recently dogs too – to sniff out the prized fungi. In fact, female pigs instinctively seek out truffles. Scientifically speaking, truffles contain a similar compound to androstenol, the sex pheromone found in boar saliva, which leads the pigs straight to the buried mushrooms. It might also explain why truffles are considered an aphrodisiac. While pigs are programmed to truffle-hunt, using them to do so is quite problematic since they have a tendency to devour the truffles once they’ve unearthed them!


Truffles can be categorized mainly by color: white, black and burgundy. Each of these varieties can be sub-categorized into a summer or winter truffle, depending on when they were harvested. Italian white truffles – the most valuable on the market – have a garlicky, earthy flavor and musky aroma. These truffles are prized over all other varieties because their flavor is more intense, and fades more quickly. The outside of the truffle is tan in color and the inside is a pale cream with brown marbling. These white truffles or, “trifola d’Alba”, are found in the Piedmont area of northern Italy. Fittingly, the city of Alba holds an international truffle fair in the fall, the Fiera del Tartufo. A month of festivities focus around the traditions of the truffle harvest and, of course, consuming loads of the extraordinary fungi. Black truffles are most commonly found around oak trees in Southern France and are oftentimes referred to as Black Périgord truffles, named for that specific region. While their flavor is less robust than their white counterparts, it has more longevity. The lesser-known burgundy truffle, with a dark reddish brown skin, has marked notes of hazelnut. They also have a wider growing distribution than white and black truffles, as they are found throughout Europe.

At Home Usage:

If you should find yourself buying some of these “diamonds of the kitchen”, you’ll want to be sure you use them correctly. There are a few universal rules to cooking with truffles. Firstly, remember that the truffle flavor will dominate any dish, so make certain it doesn’t have to compete. Fat is your friend when it comes to truffles. The richness of fat enhances the truffle flavor which is why it’s most often paired in butters and oils. Remember a little goes a long way. When using fresh truffles, maximize the flavor by slicing paper thin flakes on top of dishes, only using 8 – 10 grams per person. More does not necessarily mean better in this instance, rather a waste of a rare ingredient.

You’ll also want to store your precious truffles with great care, as exposure to air is what ultimately exhausts the spore of its aroma and flavor. They can be kept in the refrigerator for up to two weeks or kept frozen in a vacuum sealed glass container for up to 6 months. Lastly, truffles can be stored submerged in uncooked rice grains to emulate their natural habitat and regulate their moisture content.

If fresh truffles don’t fit into your budget, our Di Bruno Bros. truffle infusion products are a great alternative. Drizzle truffle oil over an omelette or a risotto. Use delicate truffle honey as a cheese plate accompaniment. It pairs exceptionally well with a pungent gorgonzola. Incorporate decadent white truffle cream into pasta or gnocchi or stuff homemade ravioli with black truffle cream. Lastly sample some Truffle Tremor cheese from Cypress Grove Chevre, a goat cheese studded with shavings of luxurious black truffles.

Truffles are available to pre-order in our stores—stop on by or call and place your order today!