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We’re all about casual dinners, but for those occasions when we’re looking to add a bit of luxury to our cooking routine, we reach for expensive-to-buy yet easy-to-use truffles! While there are many different kinds of truffles, only a handful are safe for human consumption. Of those edible options, the most prized species are European white truffles and black winter truffles, and it’s important to know the difference so you can use them in the best possible ways.
White truffles, a.k.a. Tuber magnatum, hail from Italy’s Piedmont region (think northwest corner of the boot, bordering France and Switzerland) and parts of Croatia, while the black truffle (formally known as Tuber melanosporum) grows in France. Even though truffles have also been discovered and cultivated all over the world, from New Zealand to the Pacific Northwest, these two European varieties have held onto their reputations as the most transcendent and flavorful. That may be due to the fact that Europe is a uniquely qualified breeding ground for this fussy fungus. Truffles only grow around the roots of certain types of trees and require a particular climate to thrive. Furthermore, they like a chalky soil with a specific pH level—a terrain that’s native to Europe but that often has to be manipulated elsewhere.
White truffle season spans September through December, hitting its peak in October and November. The season for black winter truffles is later, from December to February. Other species of black truffles, which are still used in cooking, though thought to be less luxurious, are harvested during the summer.
Neither! We hate to break it to you, but there’s nothing natural about this now-ubiquitous condiment. Instead, it’s made by combining olive oil with a chemical compound that’s designed to mimic the smell of truffles. So sadly, if the scent of truffle oil conjures images of Italian families roaming the countryside with their truffle-sniffing dogs, think again. The more accurate image is chemists in a lab!
The bad news about cooking with real truffles is that it’s going to cost you. But the good news is that it’s relatively easy since it’s best to pair truffles with simple dishes that are willing to give up the spotlight.