Summer is supposedly here!! The good news is, even if the weather is not great, summer truffles are now fully in season with a better flavour than at the start of the season. The season runs from May to August.
Truffles are a type of fungi but unlike mushrooms, they grow underground attached to tree roots, commonly ones bearing nuts. Hazelnut, beech, oak, and birch are often the best places to look but they are not easy to find. Places where they grow are closely guarded secrets as they are an expensive commodity and quite rare.
Traditionally a truffle pig was used to sniff out the truffles. They would be taken by their owners to an area where they are known to grow and the pigs with their keen sense of smell would be able to locate them. Unfortunately, the pigs love the taste of them and so if the hunters were not quick the pig would dig them up with its snout and snaffle them, an expensive drawback. Dogs are now used as they can be trained to find them but will not eat them.
Most black truffles look similar, round, dark brown to black with a very knobbly exterior, once cut open the interior is creamy or dark in colour and marbled, when fresh and ripe they have an amazing aroma, earthy, but hard to describe, if no aroma they are to be avoided as this indicates they are old and past it!! Fresh truffles have a short shelf life, up to 7 days.
Unfortunately, the British truffle is the same as the commonest variety in Europe, Tuber Aestivum, and is not as pungent as the winter varieties, that said they are cheaper to buy, possibly a good place to start if unsure whether one likes them. The winter varieties, especially the magnificent white truffle, are far stronger and a lot more expensive, more on those later in the year!
Personally, I think the best way to enjoy truffles is to keep it simple, cooked plain pasta, olive oil, salt, black pepper with a generous amount of truffle finely shaved over the top. Alternatively, a simple risotto, some truffle cooked with the rice and more shaved over the top.
A great source of truffles is www.trufflehunter.co.uk with delivery by post.
By: Simon Vernon