Ordering Truffles Out of Season

Photo by Wazouille
The black truffle, when ripe, should have signature white veins running throughout.
"Don't order anything with truffles," my friend said during a recent dinner at an upscale restaurant in town. "It's not truffle season any more. It won't be worth it."

I had, of course, heard the phrase "truffle season" before, particularly in reference to the expensive Alba white truffles, which achieve peak ripeness in October and November and are rarely served outside of those months. But when ordering truffles at a fancy restaurant, I rarely think about them in the same way that I might asparagus or green beans or berries. Truffles look like rocks and smell like an alluring mixture of mushrooms and earth. They're a fungus. How can they not be in season?

It seems that at least one variety of traditional European truffles (of which there are four) is "in season" every month of the year except March and April. So if you're seeing truffles on menus right now, chances are they're the last crop of the year, or they're frozen or preserved in oil.

White truffles, the cream of the crop if you will, are in season primarily in October and November. Like all truffles, they're harvested with the aid of truffle pigs or dogs who are trained to sniff out the pungent odor of the fungi and dig them up. Once they're unearthed, the quality of the flavor and the aroma begins to decrease exponentially. Most truffles have a five-to-seven-day shelf life, which can be increased slightly by refrigerating them.

Truffles should be stored only after they've been scrubbed with a brush under running water to remove excess dirt. Delectations, a blog devoted to truffles, notes that they can be frozen for as long as six months without losing much of their aroma, though they may soften a bit. Restaurants need to be sure that the truffles are stored in an absolutely airtight container, as any moisture will cause them to degrade.

Many restaurants store truffles in rice for the several days until they're used up. Rice mimics the natural habitat (aka dirt) to which truffles are accustomed, and helps keep them from rotting prematurely.

The story continues on the next page.

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Marco Wiles at Da Marco is a go-to guy on good truffles. He travels to Northern Italy and hires a truffle finding dog and scout; his mother's hometown is not far away, and he speaks Italian of the same dialect. And the results show in the simple goodness of his dishes at Da Marco.

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