The Romans believed Jupiter, the Roman king of gods, created truffles when he struck an oak with his bolt of lightening. While this spring we have had more rain than usual, and as I write this there is another thunderstorm -- I felt the spring truffles would have benefited from some of Jupiter's electrification.
Italy is lucky to have wild truffles all year round. With impatience I've been awaiting the spring truffle or the Tuber aestivum, which grows here in the Sibillini Mountains of Central Italy. These truffles grow closer to the surface than the more expensive black or white truffle that are both harvested in the autumn and into the New Year.
The wet spring has been good for the Tuber aestivum and the family in the mountains where I get my truffles from, had a good selection. The spring truffle in this part of Italy looks like a perfect marriage of the black and the white. The outside is bumpy and dark brown to black, while the inside is a cream coloured marble.
Once again I found my taste buds at odds with local Italians. They like the delicate flavor. Italians here have much more refined palates than I. This is evidenced by how they not only pick out the ingredients used in a dish, but also tell you how much of each is used. One woman I know can tell how much salt is in food simply by smelling it!
For me the spring truffle was too subtle a flavor. I ended up slicing it as one would cheese with a cheese slicer, and eating it pure by the slice. Consumed in this form I also enjoyed it. (The texture is less of the melt-in-your-mouth, creamy smoothness the black truffle offers one.) But as soon as it was mixed with even plain pasta, I felt it was lost.
In North America the Tuber aestivum fetches a decent price. I found them selling on-line mostly for around $60 US per 3 ounce or $20 US per ounce. They are shipped by courier because they must be eaten fresh.
While it is tempting to economize, if you like a good strong sensation when you eat a truffle... save your money. Wait for the black truffle that has more 'lightening bolt' to it.
There is also the Tuber uncinatum or the Burgundy truffle, which grows in parts of Italy in the summer. With high hopes I will hunt that one out because it is supposed to be less 'delicate'.
As befits a food made by gods, the Romans attributed truffles with aphrodisiacal powers. For me the spring truffle was a bit lacking in this regard but after eating about 10 grams it does nonetheless create a feel good factor, similar to having your solar plexus warmed by the sun, accompanied by a buzz like caffeine, but calm.
Now I'm counting the days for the summer ones...