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Whole preserved black truffles

Where can I find whole preserved black Perigord truffles (Tuber melanosporum Vitt.) locally, preferably SF or Berkeley/Oakland area? I know I've seen them at Draeger's in the past but that's not very convenient.

Anybody seen them at the Made in France warehouse sales? FWIW their Web site lists only black summer truffles.

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  1. Robert I am not sure but Say Cheese in Cole Valley may have them- I saw someone buying whole black truffle in there a few months ago.

    Here is the number-(415) 665-5020.

    1. I believe Lunardi's has them. I'm not sure of all their locations.

      1. I think I've seen them at Made-in-France before, Robert, but you should phone. (Preferably speak French, because most people there seem to.) Also the small local chain A. G. Ferrari Foods, based in Oakland, carries several truffle products and I've gotten preserved T. melanosporum there, and at Draeger's which might ship if you talk to them. Check the ingredients, though. Because I've also seen at Ferrari, and elsewhere, Italian products based on "summer truffles" (Tuber aestivum, sometimes aestium or aestiuum) conspicuously labeled "black truffles" which is badly deceptive.

        In case any reader doesn't already know this -- Robert does, I'm sure -- beware the so-called "summer truffle." It's nothing like the famous black truffle of Périgord and elsewhere. It looks uniform inside, almost like a dark Jerusalem artichoke, compared to the distinctive interior of a true black truffle with light-colored canals surrounding pockets (asci) of the black spores. It has relatively little flavor and is sometimes sold in liquid that imparts a flavor of real black truffles. It's one of two minor dark truffle species that are nice mushrooms but nothing like the Real McCoy. Lately they are being marketed to inexperienced users in ways easily mistaken for the true black truffles of literature and lore. They are specifically not a "summer" version of the true black truffle. Another minor species being marketed now, less misleadingly than those I mentioned, is Tuber oregonense ("previously T. gibbosum"), the Oregon White, a pleasant wild mushroom again, normally with far less flavor or aroma than a true white truffle, and less expensive.

        1. What about the mushroom guy at the Ferry Building?

          6 Replies
          1. re: cheesemonger

            "Summer truffle" products only, at least today.

            1. re: Robert Lauriston

              Side observation: Black "summer truffles" are nice little wild mushrooms but have become a trap for the budding truffle enthusiast. Vendors exploit the reputation of (or even substitute them deliberately for) the much rarer, much more famous classic black truffles, which they resemble only on the surface.

              "... Tuber aestivus, the summer truffle, dark brown or black, with an aromatic odor but not much taste." -- Waverly Root, some 30 years ago

              (The common black "summer truffle" is usually rendered T aestivum, sometimes aestium or aestiuum.)

              1. re: eatzalot

                Yeah, a lot of the stuff I've been finding is prominently labeled "black truffle" and only in the fine print does it say "Tuber Aestivum." Perfectly nice ingredient in its own right, but not similar to the real thing.

                One jar at Far West Fungi didn't even have the fine print.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  Exactly, I have other examples. This scam is fairly recent. I first saw it a few years ago in good restaurants elsewhere in US that got tourist trade. In a real black truffle slice, fresh or preserved, the wavy black-white patterns are memorable. With the cheap imitation, you just see a uniform interior (like a slice from a cooked mushroom stem). The euphemistic name "summer truffle" and the surface resemblance even mislead some people to think they are some kind of summer crop of the famous truffles! Enthusiastic truffle writing that blurs the distinction has also appeared from people selling cheaper species.

                  If someone sold skim milk as "cream" there'd be outrage, because many people know and buy milk products. Labeling a cheap species as "Black truffles" is the same fraud but causes less reaction, and some people now trade on that.

                  1. re: eatzalot

                    Apparently it's not a recent scam, I just came across a diatribe against it in the first edition of Paula Wolfert's "The Cooking of Southwest France," published in 1982.

            2. re: cheesemonger

              I love that place! I just posted something about that...will delete so I don't duplicate.

              1. re: poulet_roti

                Seriously? Seems pretty upscale for them.

                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  I understand your reaction. I am relatively certain that I have seen them at Lucca and a bit surprised myself. Obviously, I would call before going if out of your way.

              2. Updating this since it came up in another topic.

                I have not found preserved black Perigord truffles (Tuber melanosporum) any anywhere in the Bay Area in a few years. I've seen preserved "black truffles" at Draeger's, Far West Fungi, Le Sanctuaire, Made in France, and other places, but they're all black summer truffles (Tuber aestivum) or other off species, which are interesting if you can get them at say 10% of the price of the real thing but at 40-60% I think they're a ripoff.

                I think real black truffles are currently available only mail-order and fresh when in season, at which time Far West Fungi is a good source.

                4 Replies
                1. re: Robert Lauriston

                  are they ridiculously overpriced at far west fungi?

                  given this might be the only place in sf that carries them, it wouldn't surprise me -- but i don't know truffle prices well enough (at all) to say.

                  i bought one a month ago from far west funghi, but don't remember the exact price / ounce. i think it was around $150 per ounce, so a small single whole piece was ~$45.

                  i know caviar prices at a lot of gourmet stores are about double what you can find online.

                  1. re: Dustin_E

                    I don't know, I don't much care for raw melanosporum so I have no reason to pay the premium for fresh.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Robert, do you mean literally "raw?"

                      In my experience cooking with truffles (the classic species, not today's cheap lookalikes), only the White (T. magnatum pico) is much used raw (like, grated over risottos and pastas in Italy) and the books always say it doesn't take well to cooking, though I haven't actually tested that.

                      On the other hand the true black truffle is very often cooked into things (scrambled with eggs, stuffed into beef filets or other meaty objects, cooked in ashes, etc.). I've used them in various such ways, and GOOD fresh ones, in cooking, always contributed much more flavor and aroma than any canned ones.

                      Then again -- I haven't checked reports for this year specifically, but typically now is a bit late in the year for fresh Blacks from the traditional European sources. They're apt to be smaller and less flavorful if you can even get them. (One Bay Area chef, also quoted in a Chow story on truffles a few years back, was buying fresh ones in quantity through each season, and warning customers about expectations beyond February or so.)

                      1. re: eatzalot

                        Yes, literally raw melanosporum. Google Images for "black truffle salad." I've had them a few times, makes about as much sense to me as raw foie gras. Interesting to try once but to my palate a waste of splendid ingredients.

                        There's a recipe and photo in Robuchon's "Le meilleur et le plus simple" aka "Simply French" of a salad with about $150 worth of thin-sliced black truffles. Could you take these back and fry them up with some potatoes, please?

                2. There is a mushroom store in the ferry building that sells fresh truffles.

                  2 Replies
                  1. re: Llamalicious

                    I'm not sure exactly what they are, but I was in Country Cheese on San Pablo near University the other day, and they had black truffles in small glass bottles. I think they were about $30 each. Not sure if these might be preserved black truffles.

                    1. re: TopoTail

                      That would be a very good price for melanosporum.

                  2. Any recent melanosporum sightings? I thought I had a can in the cupboard but I must have used the last one and failed to reorder. Sad state of affairs for Bastille Day.

                    1. Hi Robert,

                      I don't have a local source for you but remembered Patricia Wells wrote about preserved truffles in one of her Paris guides and what to look for. To paraphrase:

                      Truffes brosees au natural: Truffles preserved in water and salt with no other flavorings

                      Truffe extra: whole truffle(s) that are uniformly high grade and firm

                      Permiere Ebullition: A truffle that has been brushed, salted, placed in a container and sterilized. Significance here is that it is heated for sterilization only once. Since the process reduces the weight of the truffle, the conserver has to underestimate the weight of the truffle in order to comply with the weight specified on the jar. Also, it's only processed once.

                      Deuxieme Ebullition: truffle is sterilized, weighed, then sterilized again. Loss of flavor.

                      Truffes premier: small, irregularly shaped truffles that are like pieces and are more or less black.

                      Truffes en morceaux: smaller pieces, generally like truffes premier, but perhaps less expensive.

                      The rest of them are kind of degenerate grades, like shavings and jus.

                      Keep in mind this book was published years ago and things may have changed, but I did a web search on truffles and some of the terminology is still in use. Like the ebullition stuff.

                      It's possible your best bet is over the internet, if you have time. Way back, my in-laws would bring truffles back from their trips from France. They'd get them from Maison de la Truffe, which has a web site that I just checked (it there but doesn't respond, maybe tomorrow). The truffles were all premier ebullition marked brossee extra and were really good. They were presents so I don't know their cost, but flavor and perfume were strong and clean.

                      I've gotten fresh truffles on numerous occasions in California. They were not the same species as the french variety, but the quality varied truffle by truffle. The now deceased Oakville Grocery in Palo Alto used to carry them and I made them give me the whole bowl and smelled them individually. They ranged from interesting to WOW. Sigonas used to carry them as well and I would crack each pack and smell each one. Same thing. Huge differences. These weren't Perigord but the point is fresh can be a toss up. Just because it's fresh doesn't mean it's good. I'd rather have good preserved than a lot of the fresh available locally.

                      The preserved truffles were all very good and consistent. Maison de la Truffe is a deluxe brand, like Fauchon and Hediard, but they don't have a monopoly; I'm sure there are equally good sources that are less expensive.

                      Good luck in your search.

                      1 Reply
                      1. re: fishhead

                        Fresh truffles can be great but none of the other varieties can substitute for melanosporum.

                        They are available online. Maison de la Truffe's online store does not provide enough information on the products and the prices have gone way up in recent years, they're charging over €1 per gram for shavings (which are fine for my purposes). The best value I've found lately is Urbani puree, $29 for 25 grams.