Why Truffles Are So Expensive?

George Petras wrote . . . . . . . . .

Truffles — the non-chocolate kind, sorry — are edible fungi, like mushrooms. Unlike mushrooms, they grow underground near tree roots and the best truffles are wildly, insanely, wait-how-much? expensive, sometimes as much as thousands of dollars per pound.

Truffles are costly because they’re hard to find, frustrating to grow, and impossible to store for any length of time. They generally range from strawberry- to apple-sized, though larger ones have been discovered.

Though multiple species are found worldwide, prestige truffles come from specific areas, much like wine from celebrated regions of Europe and California.

Black truffles from France and white truffles from Italy are the two most highly valued. Even though they resemble evil spores from a 1960s Outer Limits episode, truffles are prized delicacies in gastronomy, the art of cooking and eating good food.

Some U.S entrepreneurs are cultivating truffles to become part of an industry estimated to grow to nearly $6 billion globally over the next two decades.

Truffle farms face formidable agricultural challenges, since truffles thrive only in a narrow band of weather conditions. Black truffles, for example, need mild winters, no frost, warm (not hot) summers, and dry winters, according to modernfarmer.com.

Grow a good truffle, however, and you’ll be rewarded by food fanatics clamoring for a seat at your table.

Ask aficionados to describe truffles and you’ll get baskets of adjectives: garlicky, mushroomy, earthy, pungent, musky, gamey. That’s because the truffle’s flavor comes not from its taste, but its aroma. Writers wax poetic about it:

“Presently, we were aware of an odour gradually coming towards us, something musky, fiery, savoury, mysterious, — a hot drowsy smell, that lulls the senses, and yet enflames them — the truffles were coming.”

— William Makepeace Thackeray, Memorials of Gormandizing, 1841

Truffles get their peculiar odor from a multitude of chemicals. In white truffles, bis(methylthio)methane is the key compound, according to the American Chemical Society. In black truffles, dimethyl sulfide and 2-Methylbutanal are found.

In addition to those scent molecules, truffles have pheromones, chemical substances that affect animals and insect behavior. They have androstenol, a steroidal pheromone found in humans, and androstenone, which boars produce for mating.

Modern research suggests truffles affect people because of the human pheromone. Others have commented on the phenomenon:

“The truffle is not a positive aphrodisiac, but on occasion it can make women more loving and men more lovable.”

— Alexandre Dumas, Grand Dictionnaire de Cuisine, 1871

The smell is also why pigs were originally used to sniff out truffles — they were drawn to the boar pheromone. Specially trained dogs are employed these days, since they don’t gobble up truffles as pigs do.

Unfortunately the unique odor starts to fade as soon as the truffle is dug up. Truffles don’t last longer than 7 to 10 days.

Truffles can be cooked, but are usually cleaned by hand and grated or sliced paper-thin atop warm food, which absorbs the truffle’s aroma. Other cooks put truffles in closed containers with food to impart a truffle flavor. You don’t need much since a little goes a long way.

In lieu of actual truffles, some people use less expensive truffle oil, which is “cooking oil, such as olive or sunflower oil, that has been infused with the aroma of white or black truffles,” according to Bon Appétit magazine.

It can be difficult to find truffle oil that includes real truffles. It’s out there, but most of it is cooking oil scented with chemicals found in truffles (but not truffles themselves).

You shouldn’t cook with truffle oil since heat tends to alter it, advises RecipeGeek. It’s considered a finishing oil, best when sprinkled sparingly over prepared food like eggs, cooked vegetables, pasta or potatoes. Even french fries are subjected to the treatment.

Truffle oil has its passionate defenders and detractors. Anthony Bourdain, the late celebrity chef, was unsparingly critical:

“Truffle oil. It’s horrible. It’s not even food. It’s really on a par with — about as edible as Astroglide, and made from the same stuff.”

Source: USA Today

Watch video (1:50 minutes):

Dogs help to farm truffles in Sonoma County, California . . . . .

Your Next Truffle May be Coming from Greece

Larissa Zimberoff wrote . . . . . . .

So you’re dining at a fancy restaurant and choose to splurge on some truffles to top off your repast. The server steps up and presents the vaguely ugly tuber. As the pungent slices rain down on your main course, the waiter announces that these truffles didn’t come from Italy, the traditional provenance of this decadent garnish. They hail from Greece.

Don’t be shocked—be glad. Italians have successfully positioned their product as the most luxurious under the forest floor. But white Alba truffles—tuber magnatum pico—also grow magnificently well in Greece. Even Aristotle mentions them in his writings, but they never made it into the local cuisine. Unlike Italy’s truffles, which have been dug up and eaten for centuries, Greece’s truffles have remained largely undisturbed. At least they did until the Athens-based culinary exporter Eklekto saw their potential for the U.S. market.

But there’s an additional reason to embrace Greek truffles. Usually, countless middlemen touch an Italian truffle before it makes it to market, increasing the consumer’s chances of getting a counterfeit version. Eklekto partners Peter Weltman and George Athanas say they work only with a small group of Greek foragers and know exactly where the product is from. Apart from the forager working with his trusty dog, Weltman and Athanas are the only people that touch the truffles before export, the company says.

Initially, it was mutual interest in Greek wine that brought Weltman and Athanas together, but a mutual friend and respected mycologist (a studier of fungi) pointed them to truffles. Bitten by the Greek truffle bug, Weltman—a trained chef and sommelier—brought a cache of tubers back with him to San Francisco-area restaurants in 2016, jamming a pile of Greek Burgundy’s (also called black truffles) into a stinky backpack. “You bring in caper leaves and it’s one thing,” he says of these sales calls. “But truffles are a whole other ballgame.” Everywhere Weltman went, the kitchen staff gathered around to peer into his Tupperware. They loved the scent: more buttery and saltier than the smokier French version and different from the Perigords—melanosporum—that he had later, which were more fruity, earthy and pungent. Still, they were sent off without a sale.

In 2017, Eklekto’s foragers began unearthing the prized white truffle that, in addition to Italy and Greece, also comes from Slovenia and Macedonia. More than a few Italian truffles have a good chance of actually hailing from these countries, given the premium prices they command and the ease of exporting them. At Urbani, which controls 70 percent of the world’s truffle market, Vittorio Giordano, vice president of the U.S. and Canada division, says he’s paying close attention to his Alba sources.

“As a truffle company, we have to keep an eye on the product,” he says. “If there are other areas producing the same truffle, we definitely have to pay attention.”

Nevertheless, with Alba prices climbing due to drought, the timing for Greek truffles was perfect. Last year, Italian truffles jumped to $3,500 a pound wholesale. Greek truffles were slightly cheaper, going for $3,150 a pound. Equally delicious, but not as rare, Perigords fetched $840 a pound.

In peak season, Tusk will spend around $100,000 on truffles.

The same species as the Alba, Eklekto’s Greek white truffle smells and tastes just as delicious. One convert is chef Michael Tusk at San Francisco’s Quince restaurant. Tusk is a prodigious user of the luxury ingredient. “People are paying a lot of money,” Tusk says of his dinners. Because of this, sometimes he would take over in the dining room for any cautious captains. “I was never really fond of conservative shaving. It was either go big or go home.” During his annual, eight-night, white truffle festival, he uses about two kilograms a day. In peak season, Tusk will spend around $100,000 on truffles.

When Weltman first pitched his burgundy truffles to Tusk in 2016, the chef didn’t believe another country’s product could rival Italy’s. But after a year of soaring overhead, he reconsidered. “It was a brutal year of expense and I thought I’ll at least take a look,” says Tusk. He began adding them to his risotto with tartufo bianco, a dish that includes both cultured white truffle butter and a generous shaving of truffles at the table, and agnolottini di fonduta, molten cheese-stuffed pasta with white truffles. “The flavor was really good,” he says.

Last October, when Quince was awarded three Michelin stars, he requisitioned truffles to celebrate. He called up Far West Fungi—a wholesale and retail shop that carries the largest variety of truffle species in the Bay Area and which just received a large shipment of white tubers from Eklekto. General Manager Naomi Wolf delivered the goods personally. “I think it was three pounds, a ludicrous amount,” Wolf says.

“The smell and the taste were absolutely every bit as good as anything I got from Alba.”

George Chen, chef and owner of China Live and Eight Tables in San Francisco, first started using truffles in 2007 at Roosevelt Prime, a steakhouse in China. He continued to use Chinese truffles until 2010, when the market began to be flooded with inferior product. He started searching for alternatives.

“I heard that Greece had truffles, but I had never seen one,” says Chen. Weltman showed up one day with large, bright, white truffles. They had few indentations, allowing for beautiful oval pieces when shaved. But that wasn’t the real test. “The smell and the taste were absolutely every bit as good as anything I got from Alba,” Chen says. He began using them on his velvet chicken with roasted truffle veal jus and, in a riff on broccoli beef, seared wagyu finished with shaved white truffles.

Taking a chance on a supplier with a new ingredient, especially an expensive one, is a risk many don’t want to take. However, for this southern European country whose economy has problems, it’s a potential jackpot. Lefteris Lahouvaris, a Greek mycologist who works with Eklekto, estimates that Greece could export as many as three tons of truffles annually, translating into millions of dollars at wholesale prices in the U.S.

Many have yet to be convinced. Chefs that include Yotam Ottolenghi and Alice Waters, both of whom showed interest, eventually passed on Greek truffles. At Far West, where some white Albas went for $5000 a pound last year, co-owner Ian Garrone says he will continue to carry the Greek truffles as long as they’re consistent. “It’s going to be determined by a few good seasons,” he says. “I’m thinking it’s going to be an early white truffle season. If it can get in the market before Italian [truffles] get established, it has a really wonderful chance of being a mainstay.”

That said, Greece isn’t the only unlikely source for truffles these days. America’s Pacific Northwest is garnering a reputation for its underground crop, too. At the annual truffle festival in Eugene, Oregon, where white truffle season begins in October and ends in March, chefs cook with massive amounts of the tuber. At one especially notable dinner, they created eight courses that paired European truffles alongside the local offerings. Guests unanimously preferred the native truffles, recounts Charles Ruff, the festival’s culinary director. “The best experience with any truffle,” he says, “is to enjoy it in its terroir.”

Source: Bloomberg

White Truffle Prices Double to US$3,200 a Pound Because of Weather Conditions in Italy

Sara Clemence wrote . . . . . .

During a bumper year for Italian white truffles, one of fine dining’s most precious (read: expensive) ingredients, San Francisco chef Michael Tusk can get practically profligate with the aromatic mushrooms. He’ll even use them to top pizza.

“This is probably not a year for that,” says the chef and co-owner of Cotogna and the three-Michelin-starred Quince.

“Prices have doubled,” says Vittorio Giordano, vice president of Urbani Truffles, a major importer.

Each fall, truffle aficionados around the globe pay dearly to have the lumpen tubers shaved atop risotto, scattered on pasta, and draped onto sushi. But white truffles are finicky. Resistant to farming and highly perishable, they grow wild in forests, are hand-hunted by men with trained dogs or pigs, and are available fresh only from September into December. In 2016, there was an abundance of truffles, and prices plunged, but a hot summer followed by a dry fall this year have made for a dramatically smaller harvest this season.

Fortunato Nicotra, executive chef at New York’s Felidia, came by “great truffles” at around $1,300 a pound in 2016, he told Bloomberg. This year, he is paying $2,800 to $3,200 a pound for golf ball-sized tubers. (“I can’t go with a little chickpea to shave in the dining room,” he says of the smaller, less-expensive pickings.) Larger sizes are rarer, and anything weightier than 40 grams can cost several hundred dollars more per pound, he says.

“Let’s say it is a big problem,” Nicotra says. “I cannot double my prices. But I cannot be without truffles.”

Foodies who like to dose their dishes with truffle products needn’t worry—Giordano says the shortage hasn’t yet hit flavored oils and butters. But diners may see slightly higher prices for the fresh, musky shavings on menus. Nicotra says he may have to increase the price of truffle dishes by $10; at the moment Felidia charges a $75 supplement for a dose of shavings.

Instead, to allow diners the pleasure of eating tuber magnatum (often translated as “noble tuber”) restaurants will be eating much of the cost increase, which will cut into already slim margins. On average, food makes up around 28 percent of the price of a dish, Nicotra says. When you’re dealing with truffles, the food cost rises to 33 percent—this year, more.

Beyond simply reducing the number of white truffle offerings, or cutting them entirely, some restaurants will respond by serving up recipes whose base ingredients not only cost less, but also allow for a lighter hand with the truffles.

“Simple preparations that work well—dairy dishes, eggs, those types of things—are kind of like canvases for the truffles and can cut down on the cost of the overall dish,” says Tusk. In the past, he has offered diners a whole truffle and a scale and let them decide how much or how little they want.

Giordano, the truffle importer, says Urbani is suggesting that chefs shrink portions slightly to offset the high prices. “Maybe you support it with a little bit of truffle butter to help,” he says.

Nicotra, meanwhile, is not just worried about prices but availability. The appetite for white truffles tends to peak in October and early November. “The first month, we sell a lot because people wait for a year to have it,” he said. “They’re saying now if the weather keeps going, it’s going to be a problem in November to find any.”

Truffle hunters interviewed in the Telegraph say that in some regions of Italy, supplies could be reduced by 90 percent.

Now, Nicotra is looking to Croatia as a potential source. “They taste slightly different—the soil, the trees, everything is important for the truffle,” he says. “I have to say, they are pretty good, though.”

Source: BloomBerg