When the most prestigious truffle producing countries — Italy and France — have a truffle crisis the impacts on the market are global.
This season in Italy, the while truffle, the Tuber magnatum, rose in wholesale price from €4,000 per kilo, to €6,000 per kilo.
By the time it reaches you in a restaurant in Canada or the United States, the price has more than doubled again.
This year's huge increase in price was driven by climate change coupled with lack of rain. Last summer was one of Italy's hottest and driest in living memory. The impact on the growth of the truffle is huge. This hot dry weather created "the lowest harvest in history," reports Italian journalist Francesco Massi in the Corriere Adriatico.
To date, irrigation has not been implemented widely in Italy because the climate and other ecological factors have been historically favourable to the production of truffles.
In the Marche Region of Central Italy, a heartland for truffle production, I spoke with a long standing cultivator and the president of an Italian truffle association, Dr. Serafino Fioravanti, who explained the situation, whereby the high prices are not advantageous for anyone. Although he will be paid more, he will have a much lower rate of production and overall earn less, and meanwhile some customers will not be able to purchase truffles at such high prices.
A negative spinoff of high prices is that consumers are more likely to turn to what is marketed as affordable options. These products are low cost and typically contain an artificial truffle aroma with only a fraction of real truffles. The strong aroma gives people the impression they are getting the real thing; however, the sensation of truffles in these products is created by bismetiltiomethane and dimetilsulpher. These chemicals are widely used in truffle oils and sauces. Some groups are lobbying against them.
As well as not being a genuine food product, with time these chemicals may alter consumers who begin to become accustomed to the artificial flavour, without experiencing the more complex and sometimes more delicate aroma and taste nature has created.
Help is on hand. The black truffle, the Tuber melanosporum, may be the solution you are looking for. This truffle is famed for its versatility and is better in the hands of a novice cook, at home. It can withstand some low heat, and is a more affordable price.
By pairing the black truffle with certain food products, the flavour of the truffle can be enhanced, meaning you could use less. For example, with 4gm of fresh black truffle per person, an elegant and true truffle meal can be created.
One method is to prepare a porcini sauce, ideally with fresh porcini mushrooms but rehydrated ones can also be used. Dried porcini are relatively inexpensive in North America, and the porcini mushrooms underscore, or can showcase the truffle flavour, creating a rich sensation.
Here is how I, as a Canadian, make a porcini-truffle sauce. Italians might give you different instructions, but for my simple taste this works:
To start with, remember that fresh truffles should always be used at room temperature so you may need to remove the truffle from refrigeration before consuming it.
- Rehydrate a package of dried porcini mushroom by soaking in water overnight. I add some white wine to this water, but a professional chef may tell you otherwise. Don't discard the water the next day.
- Finely chop a small onion and a small piece of celery. Fry these in a heavy pan with a mixture of butter and olive oil, on a low heat until very soft and light brown.
- Add the reserved water and a generous splash of wine.
- Then add your chopped porcini mushrooms.
- After a few minuets of cooking at a medium heat — don't let the liquid dry out — add approximately a quarter of a cup of fresh table cream.
- Simmer for about five minutes to let the flavours amalgamate into a sauce.
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This sauce could be used on pasta. Or on top of a slice of pork fillet, for example.
If serving on pasta, avoid spaghetti or tagliatelle. Instead, use a penne form because you want the mushrooms to be able to be distributed freely and even enter inside.
Literally seconds before you are ready to serve the meal, grate the black truffle on top of the sauce on each plate, aiming for about 4 gm per person.
Enjoy your festive season.
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