The black truffle of its Latin name "Tuber Melanosporum" has been known since the 19th century as the "black diamond" of French gastronomy, a precious stone that sublimates culinary creations, from the most audacious to the simplest. Tasteful, subtle, fine, fragrant, tasty, this truffle, also known as the "Perigord truffle" remains, before being a luxury product, a pure product of the soil.
The black truffle in History
A gastronomic gem known since ancient times
The discovery of the black truffle is still mysterious. All we know is that it was already highly prized in ancient times and commonly used in the cuisine of the Egyptians, Romans and Greeks. It is assumed that it has been tasted since that time because it has been reported that in Egypt around 2600 BC, the pharaoh Cheops used to serve this truffle to the delegations that came to honour him. In the same way, everything leads us to believe that the "love apples" that Jacob's wife Leah disputes with Rachel in the writings of the Bible were simply truffles.
In the Middle Ages, this tuber was considered to be a work of the devil and was banned because of its alleged aphrodisiac properties. It did not make its first real appearance in France until the 15th century at the table of Francis I who returned from exile in Spain and later on the tables of the High and Rich Society of the 18th century. From then on, it was used to enhance the most refined dishes, to the delight of gourmets from the past to the present day.
Did you know that? A Perigordian legend tells that one winter evening an elderly woman came knocking on the door of a lumberjack and his family to ask for asylum. After receiving room and board, the old woman turned into a "fairy of the Périgord". This beautiful creature offered her host some seeds to thank him for his gesture and invited him to plant them at the foot of the trees in his garden. They would grow, she told him, in the form of mushrooms which would then make him very rich, and so it was...
A nugget that smells like the south
The Tuber Melanosporum, known as the black truffle of Périgord, as its name suggests, grows in the South West of France, more exactly along the Dordogne valley, but also in the South East. In Europe, it is cultivated in Spain, Italy and Eastern Europe. Australia is also an important producer.
In France, the production of black truffles is in decline. In the past, the majority of truffle fields were wild and men maintained the soil to guarantee quality land for the development of truffles.
Today, there are almost no wild truffle fields left. These areas have been abandoned by the populations. The soils are therefore not maintained as much. Moreover, there is less knowledge about truffle production, it is very complicated to "cultivate" these tubers.
At the beginning of the 20th century, France produced an average of 1000 tons of black truffles per year. Today, the production has dropped to 30 tons on average.
Truffles are therefore rare on the markets of Lalbenque, Richerenches, Carpentras...
How do they grow?
This variety thrives in the limestone soils that it likes, between 1 and 15 cm deep at the foot of endemic trees in the South-West called "truffle trees", but also holm oaks and hazelnuts. It lives in symbiosis with these trees, which provide it with the sugars it needs. On the other hand, truffles help the roots of the trees to better absorb minerals, water and nitrogen.
The Tuber Melanosporum begins to form from the end of April to the beginning of June and then develops throughout the summer because it particularly likes the stormy rains of August. According to Theophrastus a Greek philosopher (372-287 BC), this black fungus was "a plant caused by autumn rains accompanied by thunderstorms".
It really reaches its full maturity at the time of the first cold spells and is then available for sale from November/December to March. This is the reason why this mushroom is the star on the tables at the end of the year festivities. Nevertheless, purists agree that the best time to consume this variety of truffle is January and February.
The harvest of this mushroom that hides underground is special. We use the term "caver" (to dig) which means to harvest the truffle. Its smell is not detectable by man. This is why truffle growers, use dogs, certain kinds of flies or more rarely pigs who can easily spot the truffles thanks to their trained sense of smell.
A complex cocktail of aromas and a particular flavour
The intense and particular fragrance of the Melanosporum truffle varies according to its maturity and quality. The intensity of its aroma is proportional to its quality. Finely peppery, its subtle scent reminds us of musk, undergrowth, earth and humus sublimated by a delicate aroma of roasted hazelnut. There are, however, notable differences in scent from one region to another, depending on the amount of rainfall and the tree at the foot of which the truffle grew. The Tuber Melanosporum is the species best known for its bewitching aroma and taste qualities.
Tips for recognizing a quality Tuber Melanosporum
Three criteria should be kept in mind when choosing a fresh Tuber Melanosporum, at maturity and marked by its terroir. It is advisable to be very careful:
- Its firmness: A fresh product must remain firm between the fingers.
- Its veining: The mushroom must have a beautiful dark brown colour with a slight white veining on the inside. When buying it is important that the product is presented slightly notched (canified) to show its veining. The presence of veins proves that the truffle has not been frozen. Otherwise, it loses its water, becomes soft and the veins disappear.
- To its smell: Its perfume must remain bewitching.
The black truffle in gastronomy
Cooking Melanosporum: In which recipes can it be used?
The value of Melanosporum is mainly due to its seasonality and for this reason nothing is better than eating it fresh in winter. The fresh truffle cannot be washed, but it must be brushed gently to remove dirt. Taste it at ambient temperature, natural and cut into thin slices to better enhance and appreciate its aroma.
It is cooked during its phase of full maturity that truffle exhale the most aromas. Cooking it well means trapping the aroma in fat product: cream, butter, oil, cheese, egg or bacon. There is no shortage of recipes that include the truffle and ways of eating it. The most famous recipe is the famous truffle scrambled eggs. You can taste it in restaurants or make it yourself. With Perigord truffles, imagination and creativity are the key to a successful dish.
This variety of black truffle can be cooked. This is not the case with the white truffle which can only be eaten raw.
The aromas of Tuber Melanosporum are fragile. It does not tolerate high temperatures. It is therefore recommended, when it is incorporated into a cooked preparation, to cook it at very low temperatures or to incorporate it at the end of cooking to avoid exposing it to high heat. Since it is a powerful flavour enhancer, this truffle is also used in sauces or in fumet to spice up many dishes. It goes wonderfully well with potatoes, rice, eggs or pasta. You can also sprinkle small pieces on a salad, a fresh or cooked foie gras, a puree or add them with meat or a sauce, taking care not to overcook them, just warmed up.
Another idea, put the truffle 24 hours in a jar of fresh cream to accompany soup or potatoes.
The recommended proportions to appreciate this product at its true value without being disgusted by it, are 10 to 15 grams per person.