Winter is finally here, which means the truffle season is already well underway!
My love for truffles has been growing steadily over the past few years, so I reached out to my friend Younes, a French chef currently living in Australia, to learn more.
A gourmet fungus
Having a truffle on your table is a rare delight, which makes it one of the most expensive foods in the world. Truffles, a type of fungi, come in many different varieties and can be found in various parts of the world throughout the year, but the truffle-hunting process is always the same.
Because truffles grow several inches below the ground near tree roots, humans use trained dogs to sniff out the telltale aroma they emit when ripening. After the dog locates a truffle, it’s up to the human to determine whether the truffle is truly ready to eat or should be left in the ground for another few days.
As anyone who’s tried them will tell you, truffles have an absolutely unique flavor that isn’t easy to put into words.
To me, it has a garlicky bite with a very intense earthy and musky aroma that’s released as soon as you begin shaving the truffle. The most highly prized, aromatic, and expensive variety is the white truffle. Prices are usually near several thousand dollars a kilo.
Depending on the season, black truffles can be found at half the cost of white truffles. When buying truffles, don’t worry too much about the shape, but be sure to always pick ones that are firm – never spongy.
My first time cooking with truffles in Austria
As a Mexican, truffles have never been part of my kitchen culture. I was introduced to truffles later in life by my husband Johannes. He loves truffles and has taught me not only how to eat them, but how to savor, appreciate, and even cook with them.
In my opinion, the best way to enjoy a truffle is fresh and highly visible as the star of a plate. Whether it’s shaved on top of a poached egg, beef, risotto, or a simple pasta, it can’t fail to make your dish more interesting, delicious, and exciting.
To tell you the truth, I don’t remember exactly when I first tried fresh truffle, but I do remember the first time I cooked with it.
Johannes and I visited a market in Austria where some Italian merchants were selling fresh pasta, meats, produce, and – of course – truffles. As soon as we arrived, we noticed boxes and boxes of fresh truffles and knew we had to bring some home.
The guy selling them shared his expertise and enthusiasm with us, letting us smell them and of course trying to sell us one.
I was nervous, having never cooked with them before, but the opportunity was too good to pass up so we bought a nice, firm truffle, a truffle shaver, and some fresh pasta. Then we stopped by the wine cellar to pick up a good bottle of Chianti Classico Reserva and headed home to make the most luxurious dinner that’s ever come out of my kitchen. But my truffle experience didn’t end there.
An exquisite truffle experience in Croatia
Last summer, my husband was reading about the Istrian Peninsula, and how it’s become a required destination for food lovers. We were in desperate need of a holiday, so we immediately booked a hotel and headed off for a week in Rovinj, Croatia.
Picture this – a small Croatian town at the heart of the region that produces excellent olive oil, wine, and truffles, full of new experiences to awaken our inner foodies. As soon as we arrived, we started walking around the town, soaking in all the little coffee places, restaurants, bars, and street markets overflowing with local truffle products.
One of the best dinners we had was in a restaurant called Monte, where we enjoyed one of the most exciting and delicious meals of our lives.
We were personally welcomed by the co-owner, a beautiful blonde lady dressed in white who immediately sold us on a seven-course “adventurous” tasting menu.
Every dish was totally unique and beautifully presented. As the fourth course was presented – “cheek of beef with potato, onion, and mushrooms” – the waitress swooped over, wearing a white glove and holding a gorgeous black truffle. She asked if we would like her to shave some for us, and we couldn’t say yes fast enough.
The combination of the creamy potato and the slow-braised beef dusted with truffle was just delicious, and it paired perfectly with our Super Istrian Cuvée 2009 from Roxanich.
On our way back to Austria, we drove to Motovun, a little village situated on a charming hilltop and surrounded by impressive stone walls.
Motovun is home to a beautiful ancient forest, which is characterized by towering brown oaks and spectacular truffle hunting. Unfortunately, we were there at the wrong time of year, but coming back for a truffle expedition is now definitely on our bucket list.
In the meantime, we chose a quaint local restaurant with a gorgeous view from the top of the hill. Almost everything on the menu included truffle, so we decided to order the beef carpaccio and pasta with fresh-shaved truffles. It was a perfect lunch with a perfect view, and an unforgettable way to end our luxurious truffle trip.
The amazing aroma and earthy taste from truffles is truly impossible to describe – you really have to experience it for yourself. Whether you get the chance to bring truffles into your own kitchen, or just be delighted by them at a restaurant, this is an opportunity you don’t want to miss!