I met a dear friend in New York recently and out of his coat pocket he handed me a package of aluminum foil. He hid it going through customs, which is not something I like to admit to, but this package was so worth it.
I opened up the foil packet and inside were black summer truffles, freshly picked from his farm in Italy. When he wasn’t looking, I put one in my mouth and ate the entire thing.
Had he known I would have done that, he likely never would have brought them to me. Truffles are meant to be savored. They are shaved thinly and added to dishes to bring out flavors or to add to flavors. Still, I couldn’t help myself. And I will never forget that gift. I can still taste the mustiness, the almost chocolate flavor to those black truffles.
A fresh black truffle; it doesn’t get any better. Later that night, he prepared for us pasta with a little cream and some shaved black truffle. That memory lasts as well.
You can’t go wrong having truffles onboard, fresh if you can find them. If you can’t, then pick up some good quality truffle oil or preserved truffles in a specialty market. But don’t let the season pass without having it onboard.
A truffle is referred to by Wikipedia as the fruiting body of a fungus found throughout Europe. It will add flavor, visual impact and freshness to any meal you might prepare onboard, from salads, soups, pastas and appetizers to main entrees. Just a paper-thin slice or shaving using a truffle shaver is the best way to enjoy and savor the world’s most expensive tuber.
The common one we know is the tuber aestivum, or Burgundy truffle. It is harvested from September until January in Italy, France and Spain. But summer truffles are coming into season. So which type will you need to have onboard? I say both the black and white types.
For those chefs in France and Italy, buy them fresh. (Actually, those heading to Croatia will have it even better as Istria now has an incredible reputation for truffles. Their truffles are considered the best in the world and Istria is now the hub of truffle hunting.)
Don’t get me wrong. I do not suggest taking $3,000 of the boat’s money, put the purser on the spot, and fork over that large sum of money for one truffle. Instead, find out where you can buy them at a local market. (If you are lucky enough to be on a farm, a pig or a dog can sniff them out for you for free.)
Black and white truffles are found from May until September and both are lighter in flavor and aroma that their winter cousins. Black summer truffles are light brown on the outside and have a grey yellow interior. As the seasons change, the interior turns into a dark brown shade. The flavor is woodsy and earthy, even musty, with hints of chocolate, and actually is better when lightly fried if you use them in prepared foods.
White summer truffles have a lighter scent and taste but offer a more aromatic flavor than the black summer truffle. (The flavor of a truffle is directly related to its aroma, achieved by the spores maturing.) This type of truffle you want to add to already-cooked dishes as a garnishment. There are two types, the tuber magnatum pico and tuber borchii.
The truffle pico is found in the central and northern areas of Italy. The truffle borchii is found in Lazio, Marche and Tuscany areas.
White truffles are rare and the market demand far outweighs production so expect to pay handsomely for fresh ones.
Storage of fresh truffles is important in preserving them for consumption. Feel them. If the tubers are soft on the outside, then they are ripe and should be eaten that day. If they don’t feel that soft, the can last three to five days more.
If you aren’t eating them right away, wash fresh truffles with a little water and dry off. Then wrap them in a cotton cloth or paper towel and store in the refrigerator. You have to change the cloth every day to keep it fresh.
Most truffles bought already prepared or preserved should be refrigerated once opened.
Mary Beth Lawton Johnson is a certified executive pastry chef and Chef de Cuisine and has worked on yachts for more than 25 years. Comments on this column are welcome at firstname.lastname@example.org.