To finish the triptych on truffles, I will relay what I learned from Luigi about ripeness. As I said last week, the shape of a truffle has little to do with the maturity or the ripeness. A truffle will realize its full size in 2-3 days, but the ripening process can take anywhere from 2-4 weeks. The indicator is the aroma, and when we opened up the package of truffles this past week, over one pound of melanosporum, it smelled really good.
As the truffles are growing underground it is difficult to know where they are or when they are ripe; this is where the dogs come in handy. A hunter and his/her dog may walk past a truffle at 4am, without a whiff, but walk by again at 6am and the dog will poke its head into the soil and start digging. The danger is that this happens at some point and a deer or wild boar passes by, which is good eating for them and bad luck for the truffle hunter.
Once the truffles are out of the ground the determining their quality is a bit easier. Both the black and the white should be fairly firm when squeezed, just a bit of give is good and not hard like a rock. The blacks should not have too many white veins throughout, as these are “blank space,” the black portion representing the spores. The aroma of the black is not readily apparent when raw, unless you have a large quantity. The white truffles make their presence known immediately. Once a cook came to me with a panicky look in his eye, “I think we have an electrical fire!” One truffle will stink up the whole kitchen, in a good way.
As hard as the truffles are to find they are equally difficult to describe. Here are some people’s descriptions of white truffles, “Musky. Garlic. Natural gas. Cheesey. Oniony but not oniony. Cabbagey. Earthy. Heavenly.” The black truffle aroma when raw is musty with some fresh walnut or hazelnut scents too; it is really best when cooked. What is clear to the dogs, the pigs and to people is that the musk of the truffle is alluring and intoxicating. In her book Truffles, Elizabeth Luard explains the appeal of the truffle this way, “not to put too fine a point on it, the truffle reeks of sex.” The pheromones emitted by the truffle are “heavy, musky, thrilling.”
We have learned that collection is 40% down from last year. Orders placed Monday morning are available for Thursday delivery.