A Guide To French Truffles (Black Diamonds)

By: Genevieve Mc Carthy / Last updated: July 31, 2023

Estimated reading time: 4 minutes

UNEARTH THE ALLURE

Embark on an epicurean journey as we delve into the world of French truffles, particularly the revered black truffles of Périgord. These extraordinary delicacies have long been hailed as the Holy Grail of fine dining, captivating the palates and imaginations of gourmands for centuries. Their allure lies in the exquisite refinement of aromas and flavors, often likened to a harmonious blend of chocolate and earth, coveted just as fervently as the finest creations from Michelin-starred kitchens.

Black Truffle from Perigord

Step back in time and discover the intriguing origin tales surrounding these subterranean wonders. The Romans believed them to be fruits of lightning, thriving mysteriously under the canopy of trees. Even wild boars couldn’t resist the enchanting aroma and taste, leaving them intoxicated by the sheer essence of these culinary treasures.

Prepare to be enthralled as we unravel the secrets behind this enigmatic delicacy, shrouded in an aura of unparalleled fascination. Join us as we embark on this journey to unearth the hidden depths and indulge in the phenomenal world of French truffles.

While the most famous white truffle in the world comes from Alba in Italy’s Piedmont region, the world’s most famous black truffle comes from the Périgord in the immensely beautiful Dordogne region in southwest France. Other black truffles can also be found in Greece, Spain, and Italy, and new cultivation of truffles is being carried out in California and Australia. They grow from late autumn/ winter to early spring beneath the soil among the roots of specific trees, but mainly oak and hazelnut. A species of subterranean mushroom produces a fruit body, and this body or truffle forms a symbiotic relationship with the tree. It will be available for harvesting, usually from late November onwards. They vary significantly in size, from 4 cm in diameter to 8cm, and can weigh up to 100g. Black truffles can be artificially cultivated by impregnating the roots of selected young trees with the spores, although connoisseurs would argue that they lack the flavor of wild truffles.

An essential aspect of understanding the mythology behind the legendary so-called Black Diamonds of Périgord is the role of the Rabassiers. These truffle hunters use the centuries-old tradition of training pigs or dogs to locate and unearth the truffles growing beneath trees in the Périgord forests. They start their foraging in late autumn; each rabassier (truffle hunter) will have a favorite spot to hunt for truffles, and rest assured he will not share this information with anyone! However, dogs are increasingly used and rewarded with biscuits to prevent them from eating the bounty themselves. Historically, sows were used because of their acute sense of sense. These females were naturally attracted to truffles because they contain a compound similar to that which sexually vivacious boars secrete! Unfortunately, the pigs were so fond of them that it was difficult for the truffle hunter to keep his bounty – many lost fingers trying.

Fresh Black Truffles, Perigord

Fresh Black Truffles, Perigord

After the foraging expeditions throughout the winter, the hunters sell the fresh winter black truffles at markets throughout France. The largest truffle market is the market at Richerenches in southeastern France. Another key market is in Lalbenque, not far from the region of Perigord itself. Such is the demand for the Périgord truffles that prices readily exceed 1000 per kilo in the farmer’s markets held in France in January every year.

Those gourmets and chefs lucky enough to acquire some precious ‘Black Diamonds’ are the envy of chefs worldwide, for the Black truffle is a most desirable culinary item, used to magical effect in the world’s most expensive and exclusive restaurants. Chefs often shave the truffle and use it raw to enhance the flavor of pasta dishes, risotto, and salads – one Italian dish involves insetting thin slices of truffle under the skin of guinea fowl before roasting. In the Italian region of Umbria, they cook it chopped in butter as a delectable sauce for pasta. The Black truffle is an ideal accompaniment to sauces, pates, and ‘dishes en croute,’ to keep the maximum flavor.

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Genevieve Mc Carthy

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