Truffles are one of the most expensive foods on earth.
The prices is a staggering USD2,000/ R30,000 a kilo.
They’ve been described as the ‘Mozart of Mushrooms’.
They are a fungus that rarely occurs in nature and only grows only in a Mediterranean climate.
They are irresistible because their aroma is composed of chemicals that mimic mammalian reproductive pheromones. Eating, even sniffing, a truffle is a bit like being drugged.
Contrary to popular misconceptions, no country’s truffle is superior to another.
The distinguishing difference is not the species of fungi, but where it originates and when it is harvested.
The black winter truffle is highly sought after for its earthy, subtle aroma, and a taste once described as mixture of “chocolate and earth”.
The white truffle that is harvested in late summer is celebrated for its garlicky flavor, reminiscent of shallots, and also an intense earthy and musky aroma.
Truffles have gas trapped inside of them, which they release as they are cut or shaved open.
Since white truffles have more of this gas, they release more gas, thus are more aromatic.
So although intense at the beginning, the gas evaporates and dissipates when the truffle is cooked.
This is exactly why white truffles make a magnificent first impression, and why they are primarily used uncooked, mainly shaved or sliced over already prepared dishes, so that their aroma will waft and envelop the dish.
We recall a memorable dinner masterminded by chef Christophe Dehosse of Glenelly Estate in Stellenbosch for the International Wine & Food Society, that celebrated the alchemy of truffles.
The first of six tantalizing courses was the quail & truffle galantine, endive and walnut salad with port aspic.
We met some pioneers of South Africa’s fledgling truffle industry at this memorable feast.
We heard how they were breaking all conventions, and we are thrilled that their vision is now bearing fruit (since it takes 4-7 years to reach first harvest.)
Watch how a handful of local farmers are growing them (since the Cape has a Mediterraean climate too), and how finding truffles the old-fashioned way by using sniffer dogs is a challenging pursuit.
Acknowledgment: SA People, Carte Blanche-MNet
Second image courtesy of Richard Hellyer, third image Glenelly Estate.