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Dec 15, 2008 02:15 AM

Where to buy truffles?

I'm looking to purchase a single truffle (of the fungal, not the chocolate, variety) as a holiday gift for a fellow foodie, and I'm wondering where the best place is to do this. I think Far West Fungi (in the Ferry Building) sells them, but I don't know of anyplace else. Where would you recommend looking?

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  1. The Pasta Shop inside Rockridge food mall.

    1. I saw some at Whole Foods in Berkeley recently.

      1. My one experience with Far West Funghi wasn't so great--they seemed like an afterthought necessitated by the high-end location.

        The Pasta Shop does a really good job--they have specific shipments, and they line up customers ahead of time through an email list so you can pick up your truffle practically the moment it lands on US soil. They have a pre-christmas shipment coming in, I don't know if it's sold out or not. Call the rockridge Pasta Shop and ask for Julia.

        The black truffle we picked up from the Pasta Shop the Tues before Thanksgiving was amazingly fresh and the price fair.

        1. Important caution to be aware of, unless you've been dealing with truffles for a long time (at least 10-15 years) in which case you likely know this already. The "fungal, not chocolate" truffle of cooking literature and fame was, until a few years ago in the US, normally Tuber melanosporum if black (from the Périgord and elsewhere) or T. magnatum [pico] if white (from Piedmont in Italy and elsewhere). These are the famous rare, expensive fungi, extremely aromatic and flavorful if good. Secondary or minor species have always existed in larger quantity, and many are good to cook with, but they are not the famous ones and not the same in cooking.

          A few years ago, amid constantly rising prices for the famous black and white truffles, firms knowing the difference began shrewdly marketing minor species to US consumers who didn't. This can entail outright fraud (labeling something "black truffle" that isn't T. melanosporum), or use of similar-looking names (the "black" summer truffle, T. aestivum, which has little in common with the classic black truffle besides recent marketing). Minor species are OK at minor prices -- a few dollars each -- and if you know clearly that you are not getting the fungi that all the fuss was about. More, and some local sources, in a past thread here:

          1. Another factor, fairly recent: Classic European white and black truffle species are now successfully grown in the US (after long efforts that began in the 1970s). Truffles tend to smell and taste different when grown outside their native soil, so before accepting them as equivalent, get an independent, experienced truffle user to evaluate them. And always consider where your information comes from. Much recent info about truffles is produced by people selling minor species or new sources. They have little incentive to clarify the distinctions I've mentioned. Also, "truffle"-infused oils routinely get most or all of their flavor synthetically. Look up chef Daniel Patterson's May 2007 exposé article (New York Times food section, syndicated elsewhere) for details.

            For reference, 20 years ago reputable Bay Area dealers of fresh classic European white and black truffles retailed them, when available, for (in today's dollars) around $150-200 per ounce (or 30 grams) for white, $40-$60 per ounce for black (the black were much more available). I paid those prices. They generally have gone up since. If the price you see looks much cheaper, beware.

            Fresh truffles must be used as soon as possible, they decline over a period of days.