November 19, 2011

Truffles III - The Second Scents

Tuber oregonense (?) - Ontario

Those who have had the opportunity to taste the White Alba and the Black Perigord truffle species are few and far between. While there exist many other true truffle species, they are much less valued, because of weaker, less enjoyable aroma, not to say, for some of them, undesirable scents.

November to March in Europe is harvest time for the Black Winter Truffle (T. brumale). This species is related genetically to the Black Perigord, but lacks a slightly reddish skin (peridium) and has larger white veins that run through its flesh (glebe). It also has a much fainter aroma.
Maturing late into winter and right into spring is the « bianchetto », or Little White (T. borchii). This species can be found growing from Sicily to Finland. It resembles the White Alba and  has an unmistakable garlicky scent.

Next, growing from May to September across Europe are the summer truffles (T. aestivum). Even though this group shares a common ancestor with the famous White Alba, its member species have much fainter aromas. Some are often used in gourmet preparations after their aromas have been enhanced with artificial scents. As well, shavings you see at the bottom of a truffle oil bottle usually come from them. 

In spite of its name, the Burgundy Truffle (T. uncinatum) can be found in many European forests. It is a summer truffle that matures late into the season, earning it the nickname ‘‘Autumn Truffle’’. It also goes by the name ‘‘Musky Truffle’’ because of its fairly pronounced odour.  

In North America, many indigenous species with interesting aromas have been identified. Among them are the White Winter and Spring Truffles (T. oregonense and gibbosum) that grow underneath Douglas Firs on the West Coast and whose distribution is said to stretch to Ontario. Charles Lefevre, specialist and entrepreneur contends the Oregon truffle compares favorably with it’s Alba cousin. Like James Trappe, the reknowned expert and author, he insists local specimens are too often picked before they reach their full aroma. This practice has been detrimental to the North American truffle’s reputation. Attending the Yachats Mushroom Festival in Oregon, we tasted our first Oregon truffle and must withhold our judgements. 

Other sought after species prevalent in Eastern North America include the Pecan Truffle (T. lyonii) and the Canaliculatum Truffle (T. canaliculatum). The latter has been seen as far North as southern Québec, but  any further north would be too cold to fruit during winter.  

In East Asia, we find many different species and varieties (himalayan, indian, chinese…), the majority of whom are at the bottom of the aromatic ladder. When they first entered the European markets, prices temporarily dropped. Truffle farmers fear contamination of their trees by these species, especially the Chinese Truffle (T. indicum) which resembles the Black Perigord very closely. However, genetically, the two have very different lineages. As well, the aroma of the Chinese Truffle is very faint. 

More and more, we are beginning to understand how difficult it is for amateurs and experts alike to correctly identify truffles.There is a taxon (official names) war going on world wide, with major financial interests at stake. Here at the Mycoboutique, you can be sure to find the latest and most comprehensive books on truffles and many gourmet truffle products.


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