The Truffle Trend
Once a rare delicacy, truffles have moved into the culinary spotlight. Here’s why so many creative chefs—including our own!—are having fun with these flavorful fungi.
Like treasure hidden deep in the forest, truffles are sought after for their rich and pungent flavor. Though these round, knobby black and white fungi aren’t pretty to look at, their powerful aroma and earthy, sometimes nutty taste make them increasingly popular in kitchens around the world.
Truffles grow under the roots and shade of trees in the wild but can also be cultivated in truffle groves—a farming technique that has made this once rare and expensive mushroom accessible to professional chefs and home cooks alike.
“When you think about how truffles are foraged in the wild—using specially trained dogs or pigs to pick up their scent—you begin to understand how fragrant and aromatic these highly sought after fungi can be,” says Dan Kish, head chef at Panera Bread®.
Ready to Give Truffles a Try?
Panera’s Country Style Mushroom with Truffle Soup features tender white mushrooms, onions, and tomatoes simmered with sweet cream and flavored with truffle, shallots, and red wine. “This soup is a marriage of all the right ingredients,” says Dan. “Our truffle infusion is made from a concentration of natural truffle pieces. We add a little tarragon and garlic to the soup broth, and the resulting flavor profile is off-the-charts amazing.”
Truffles work well in sauces and soups that have a rich base. Butter and cream pair perfectly with truffles and help to coax out their flavor. Also, foods that tend to be bland on their own—rice, pasta, potatoes, and eggs—are commonly used as the foundation of truffle recipes.
Most recipes call for the fungi to be shaved, slivered, or sliced and then added in a very small amount to provide the right balance of flavor. “A little goes a long way,” Dan says. Some varieties—like those found in Panera’s soup—are added during the cooking process to infuse other ingredients with their earthiness. Others, like the much-desired white truffle, are used to accent a dish after the cooking process is completed.
Take-Home Truffle Tips
About a handful of truffle varieties are commonly used in cooking, but the two most common are the black one and the white one. Whole truffles can be difficult to find in your local grocery store. You can order good varieties online for next-day delivery, but be forewarned: they are expensive and seasonal. Black truffles peak in January; white, in October. While most truffles come from Italy and France, some varieties are cultivated in the Pacific Northwest, where a growing community of domestic truffle farmers are making the fungi more widely available to home cooks.
Fresh truffles lose intensity as soon as they hit the open air, so you want to look for ones that smell woodsy and earthy, an indication that they were very recently harvested. Store truffles in a paper bag in the refrigerator away from moisture, and use them quickly.
For most home cooks, natural truffle oil and truffle salt can be good substitutes for fresh truffles.
“Truffles are a love-it-or-leave-it ingredient,” says Dan. “For those of us who love them, truffles can elevate flavor and stimulate an almost emotional response to what we are eating.”