All About Truffles, Pigs, Robots, Dogs, Spores, and Then Some!

January 18, 2014 /


kenChef Ken Frank of La Toque kicked off a chock-full Saturday with how to capture the perfume of fresh truffles. He recommends infusing raw eggs (it’s the yolk’s fat that captures truffle essence), creams and custards, cheeses (especially fresh and creamy ones) and even the underside of chicken skin (common in Lyon and other parts of France) with the black truffle’s seductive aromatics. The black Winter Perigord is excellent either raw or cooked.

Frank had attendees focused on the sumptuous lunch ahead at Nickel & Nickel winery as he talked about some of his favorite ways to use truffles: Fresh chopped truffle stirred into crème fraiche and drizzled on soup, tossed in fat to coat French fries, mingled with a few leaves of lettuce for a heady accent, or truffle butter on eggs or pasta.

Ken truffle

Butter is a much better fat carrier than oil, as to infuse flavor in oil it has to be heated, initiating its trajectory toward rancidity. And as we hear over and over again this weekend, no truffle oil or salt! (They’re synthetic.)

Asked about the possibility of an American truffle industry, Frank said he couldn’t wait.“Proof of the viability of the American truffle industry,” he said, “are the Australian truffles I’ve used—every bit as good as European black winter truffles,” he emphasized. “We’re ten minutes away,” he added, referring to the relatively short time frame before chefs will be able to get a fresh, locally grown truffle.  “I’m first in line!” he added with a grin.

Dr. Paul Thomas of American Truffle Company showed microscopic images of what the truffle’s underground network looks like and explained that truffles can’t develop without a living tree host.paul

Fungi facts:

  • 95% of all French truffles are now cultivated
  • In 2007 a 1.5kg white  Magnatum truffle sold for $330,000
  • 19th-century Frenchman Joseph Talon was the first truffle cultivator
  • Surprise! The U.K. is a significant truffle growing area, as are other cold climate areas such as Sweden, Germany and Romania

AlanaAlana McGee’s second seminar on truffle dogs covered some common misconceptions about truffle dogs and the best breeds. According to the French, she told us, it’s mongrels! Robots are the newest truffle hunters on the block, yet not nearly as accurate with truffles as they are with explosives, and exorbitantly expensive.

The Swiss will use any hard working truffle dog but an Italian Lagotto Romagnolo as they think being out in the woods with one is a dead giveaway that you’re truffle hunting…).