Call out the truffle hogs! Both white truffles and black truffles have their own season when they mature below ground. However, if you're in Italy and your hog is found by the truffle polizia, expect to be jailed or fined, as truffle hogs have been outlawed in that country for decades. Instead, truffle dogs that are trained to hunt the miraculous fungi are considered worth their weight in ... truffles.
Europe and North America (with Italy as the exception) use truffle hogs to sniff the fungi from below the surface of the earth. Their highly sensitive sense of smell allows them to root out the treasure from up to 3 feet below the surface of the earth. Their only downside is that they enjoy the taste of the fungi almost as much as humans do and enjoy eating the actual truffle. And just as the truffle hogs and hounds are expensive to train, cooks and chefs have turned to truffle oil as the lesser expensive ingredient.
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If the flavor of truffle is a keynote to your dish and if the truffle is too expensive, consider truffle oil. It doesn't explode with flavor, but both truffle oils have delicate tastes. The main difference between black and white truffle oil is the intensity of flavor — black truffles give off an earthy fragrance and flavor, while white truffles are more garlic-forward with an onion overtone.
Unlike canola oil or grapeseed oil, neither black or while truffles are used for cooking oil. Instead, they are utilized as a finishing oil.
The real deal vs. synthetics
If your bottle of truffle oil lists "aroma of" or "truffle essence" on the ingredients label, consider your bottle to be made with synthetics. The real deal includes the country of origin and the type of truffle used in the manufacture; however, it's not a law that the manufacturer list whether the oil is the real thing or synthetic. It's kind of like buying "cheese food" instead of real cheese. It's less expensive, but the taste suffers and manufacturers don't really want you to know you're eating chemicals.
Synthetic truffle oil is made of an aromatic 2,4-dithiapentane created in a laboratory and not underground. To top chefs, it is considered the epitome of fake food.
The higher-priced real truffle oil offers a more complex flavor profile, while synthetics are one-noters. If you find the scent of the black truffle oil excessive, try the synthetic to tone down your dish. Always drizzle, not pour, the oil. If you need to substitute one for the other, use less black truffle oil in your recipe if it calls for white truffle oil.
Using truffle oil
Both white and black truffle oil have specific uses. You don't want to overwhelm your dishes with the truffle flavor, so use each sparingly. Foods with bold flavors are good companions for a drizzle of black truffle oil. Mushroom pizza or flatbreads are enhanced by a spot of black truffle oil. Roasted meats, saucy dishes such as pasta and even mashed potatoes go up a flavor notch when splashed with black truffle oil, and if you're making mushroom risotto, definitely use black truffle oil but sparingly.
Hearty soups benefit from black truffle oil, and home cooks enjoy the versatility of a delicate splash of white truffle oil on their cold vichyssoise. If the dish is served hot, use black truffle oil. The flavor of white truffle oil dissipates with heat.
White truffle oil is more delicate yet carries a hint of spice. The United States produces a white truffle with pecan overtones, while Italian white truffles—the most expensive of the fungi—carry a garlic or onion scent. Be sure to read the label before using either on oil-soaked pasta, on breads or in delicate dips. Scatter the white truffle oil on French fries and turn it into a gourmet dish. Experiment with the truffle flavor until you find one that wows you! If the dish uses cream, finish it with white truffle oil. Give fettuccine Alfredo a kick with a drizzle of white truffle oil.
The life of truffle oil
When you pick up a bottle of truffle oil, check the "use by" date, as the life of the oil depends on the season the truffles were harvested. White truffles are harvested from September to December, while winter black truffles are harvested from December to early March.
White and black truffles are used in truffle oil to infuse their scent and taste to specific foods. If you're lucky enough to possess a truffle, unlock it from the safe and make your own truffle oil. Similar to making your own garlic-flavored olive oil, the process is the same.
Simply heat truffle bits and pieces of the truffle with a cup of good-quality extra-virgin olive oil, cook for five minutes and then let it cool before putting it into a glass jar. Drop some chunks into the jar before sealing, and you'll have oil to last at least a few months. If you're buying truffle oil, buy the smallest size, as the shelf life of truffle oil deteriorates quickly.
Chefs rebel against fake food
For many years, high-end restaurants used truffle oil as a replacement for the real thing. As dining consciousness was raised and natural ingredients replaced synthetic chemicals, chefs rebelled. Some even threw the bottles of truffle oil against a wall, smashing them and their chemicals to oblivion. But the high cost of truffles and the use of the synthetics comes down to education. Hard to believe as it is, many chefs don't know that the synthetics are not made from real truffles.
Even high-end provision companies like to play dumb when it comes to the origin of their "organic truffle oil." Oil made from dried truffles and enhanced with truffle flavors or made with something like the truffle (but isn't the truffle) doesn't add up to an organic truffle oil. It all comes down to those truffle hogs or dogs who sniff the truffle from the earth. It emerges born of the earth, with its natural fragrance that synthetics cannot duplicate. Choose black or white truffle oil but know ahead of time that the fragrance, flavor and price point give it away and cannot replace the real thing.