Psst... We're working on the next generation of Chowhound! View >
HOME > Chowhound > Home Cooking >
Jul 5, 2010 07:40 AM

Grey truffle salt

I spent the last two weeks in Paris, and while my sister was soaking up all the wonderful boutiques, I was gleefully exploring Fauchon, Hediard, and -- my personal favorite -- Maison de la Truffe.

I couldn't justify leaving that tiny emporium empty-handed, so I bought a white truffle-infused olive oil and a 100g jar of grey salt with summer truffle.

Anyway, I've just now realized that there is a 30-day shelf life on the jar. I'd like to come up with some recipes that really allow the truffle flavors to shine. It's tricky, though, because most truffle recipes are fall/winter.

I've used it on my eggs and in our July 4th deviled eggs (yum), but if y'all have any more suggestions on how to use up a jar of truffle salt within the next month or two, please let me know!

  1. Click to Upload a photo (10 MB limit)
  1. Nevermind -- just did a search and found a host of great suggestions, namely, using it on popcorn or fries.

    But any other suggestions are still welcome!

    1. A little background caution, posted here in past years: You may find some interesting flavors in these products. But please be aware of two points that became important in recent years. (I'm an old truffle "hound.")

      1. "Summer truffles," _Tuber aestivum_ (or aestium or aestiuum) are a different underground fungus and vastly cheaper than the famous "black truffles" of cooking literature (T. melanosporum). They have nothing like the classic intense aromas and flavors, which is why they're so cheap (though often sold tarted up with a little real or synthetic truffle extract, more about that below). They are certainly not some kind of summer version of the famous black truffles (which grow mainly in fall-winter). I didn't even see "summer truffles" retailed in quantity until several years ago when "real" truffles went out of sight, and some clever marketing people started playing off the lucrative name similarity, and most people's inexperience with truffles and consequently failure to notice the dramatic differences. (They even look different, except on the outside. I've identified "summer truffles" instantly at the sight of a slice, even before smelling or tasting. And given chefs a hard time when they tried to pass these off as "black truffles" to customers, which is actually fraud, since "black truffle" has a unique established meaning.)

      2. Chef Daniel Patterson's May-2007 NYT article exposed that basically all truffle-infused oils are fake, which is to say, their flavor is mainly synthetic, with (I assume) an occasional truffle thrown in to technically justify the label "truffle-infused". Patterson unearthed a remarkable world of euphemisms and weasel words from manufacturers quizzed on this issue, and I have found it too from other sources. People trying in good faith to research these modern truffle hustles encounter commercially-motivated "experts" eager to cloud the issue.

      Key Patterson quotation from the 2007 NYT article: "Most commercial truffle oils are concocted by mixing olive oil with one or more compounds like 2,4-dithiapentane ... their one-dimensional flavor is also changing common understanding of how a truffle should taste. ... [some chefs] are surprised to hear that truffle oil does not actually come from real truffles."

      More details in past CH threads:

      6 Replies
      1. re: eatzalot

        Yikes. Thanks for all that information. I had heard about the truffle oil scam, which was why I just went with the much-cheaper "truffle-infused" olive oil. It's very flavorful, though, and it works for my amateur taste buds.

        I had no idea about the summer truffle bit, though. A little disappointing, though again, my young, eager tastebuds are easy to fool. I'll know for next time... but for now, I plan to sprinkle my fake-truffle salt on everything, because it's still delicious... can't imagine how good "real truffle" salt is!

        1. re: collegekitchen

          Hi, collegekitchen!

          I'm willing to bet that most people's tastebuds are easier to fool than yours, so there's no need to feel disappointed with your purchases or your knowledge--both will grow over time. Do the truffle salt and infused oil now taste less delicious than before because you now know that they aren't from the black t. melanosporum or the even more expensive white t. magnatum? I hope not! Given your evident love for good food, the day will come when you will have the pleasure of fresh black, white, or whatever truffles, and you will find them wonderful (if you get them in good condition), but I'll be surprised if they give you much more pleasure than you have had with this first purchase of yours.

          You can extend the life of your salt for months by keeping it, tightly capped, in the freezer. The oil will keep a long time in the fridge. And this being sweet corn season, butter an ear or two, sprinkle some of that truffle salt, and remember the fun you had in Paris!

          1. re: collegekitchen

            I'll second pilinut that these products do have merits and they give you unique flavors and aromas to work with. In my experience, "summer truffles" can be interesting and aromatic wild mushrooms. I use "truffle oils" too for their aroma, because (2,4-dithiapentane notwithstanding) they are still distinctive and interesting (unless you put them on everything, as some overeager US restaurants were doing a few years ago).

            I didn't get into all that earlier, being focused on warning people about the truffle hustles going on nowadays, misleading many people. As I think I mentioned in past threads, some European exporters of truffle products are shamelessly exploiting this situation (at least one example sold in the US was outright fraudulent) and it's unfortunately not limited to fly-by-night firms. Interviewed by the NYT for one of the food-section truffle articles that appear in autumn newspapers, a spokesman for an important European exporter disdained the selling of one pretentious minor species by competitors, but omitted to mention another such species his own firms sells in quantity (and the interviewer didn't seem to know this or point it out). I even hear allegations from professional cooks about big shenanigans going on with dried Porcini mushrooms too.

            But as pilinut mentioned, the products you got aren't changed by this information. Any more than the quality of a good wine changes because a fashionable critic recommends it and thousands immediately follow his advice. (The thing that does consistently change in that case -- observers have mentioned, even measured, this for decades -- is that the wine price goes up, sometimes way up. So if you can find such wines _before_ fashionable endorsement, you're better off.)

            1. re: eatzalot

              I recently returned from a trip to Oregon where I purchased a bunch of Oregon white truffles.. While these are not considered by the French or Italians to even merit the name truffle, they were a fraction (and I mean pennies to the dollar) of their European counterparts and I've enjoyed them in many delicious dishes for the past month..

              I've shaved them into eggs, mashed potatoes, mixed them into an aioli which I spread on toasted bread that brought my BLT to the next level. I also made a batch of simple cheese fondue which I and mixed some shaved truffles into and served with some rustic bread dippers... I incorporated some shaved truffles into a buerre blanc which I used to top my grilled halibut and tonight, I'm going to shave a bunch more to make my own truffle salt. I know this salt won't be as intense smelling as the small $30 a jar variety, but I guarantee, it will still impart a nice aroma. Made with pink Himalayan sea salt, my truffle salt will cost about $3.77 for the same amount of truffle salt. and I plan on incorporating more truffle to salt than they did.

              Yes, I've had both French and Italian truffles and yes, they were unbelievably delicious, but they're so expensive that I've only ever been able to have them a few times on very special occasions. I would rather buy and use the much lesser expensive Oregon truffles and eat them with anything and everything I wanted, than to wait for that one meal in a year that I might be able to afford French truffles.

              European truffle farmers highly criticize any and all truffles grown in any other parts of the world other than their own, because anyone selling their truffles for less than they do threatens to devalue their market, thus causing them to fetch less money for their goods, so instead, they slam these other truffles and call them inferior.

              Don't know about you, but I know I'll be happily enjoying my inferior truffles on soft boiled eggs this weekend....

          2. re: eatzalot

            eatzalot - I have purchased truffle infused oil on a couple of occasions. The first without looking at the ingredients, the second after learning about the synthetic truffle flavor that is often used. The two tins I bought most recently are produced by La Tourangelle and the ingredients are organic sunflower oil and truffle extract. (I bought both white and black truffle oils). Now I am wondering if these oils have real truffle extract or synthetic! Argh.

            1. re: DivaSheila

              Per discussion upthread, if you like the products, there's no basic reason not to use and enjoy them. Assuming proper manufacture like most synthetic flavors, the 2,4-dithiapentane or its cousins are indistinguishable from the naturally occurring forms; only a little is employed anyway. (Like the synthetic organic salicylates and acetates that mimic mint and fruit flavors in commercial confections, for example.) One dealer euphemized this something like "part of the truffle but not from the truffle." (Orwell would be proud!)

              The real objections are twofold: Oversimplified flavor/aroma (Chef Patterson's point), just as with other synthetic flavors. Depth and subtlety in natural flavorings comes from diverse, often numerous other organic molecules (congeners) that coexist in the real plant, even if one molecule makes up most of the flavor or aroma (like natural amyl acetate in bananas). Second objection is economic: Truffle oils that are mainly synthetic cost almost nothing to make, but fetch elevated prices if consumers assume they have more real truffle content than actually. (As usual the informed consumer is the best defense.)

              Products whose truffle flavoring is 99.99% synthetic, the remaining 0,01% natural -- a truffle shaving or two per tank-truck -- are sure to boast of "natural" truffle content, in the US anyway. I know of no product labeling law that requires actual proportions and since these are luxury condiments few people use anyway, I predict no change in that. Such a law would open some eyes immediately, discrediting some products and not just truffle products.

          3. I agree with SBakall (above, July 8) on merits and _value_ of good fresh Oregon Whites (Tuber oregonense, previously T. gibbosum). A few more points here from experience. (In 1980 I considered, and researched, one of those undertakings, partially successful later in various countries, to try "cultivating" premium European truffle species in the US. I could comment more on that process and its history some time.)

            1. Harvests of European T. melanosporum and T. magnatum pico (the famous "black" and "white" truffles respectively) have fallen greatly since 1900 (reasons include destruction, during World Wars, of mature trees that synergise truffle growth) while the population that seeks them grew both in both number and means. This not only made them much pricier (even during the 30 years I've bought them off and on); it also explains so many older recipes treating them as more affordable than they now are. When the famous US _Gourmet Cookbook_ (1950) prescribed a quarter-pound or so of truffles to stuff a beef filet, it was an expensive ingredient but people could afford it if they could afford the beef (this had changed already when I made that dish in the 1980s -- it did serve a lot of people, at least). I marveled at still older recipes with truffles by the half-pound, or used freely as fancy vegetables, even garnishes (like olives or pickles), until I learned they were vastly cheaper back then.

            2. Wild truffle species grow underground (generally in association with certain trees) worldwide. Many species have been identified, most with little or no flavor. In my home region of the SF Bay Area, excitement developed around 1985 when wild truffles were noticed in a heavily wooded county north of San Francisco. A truffle-trained dog even visited from France. The excitement died, once people smelled and tasted the harvest.

            3. Oregon Whites and "summer truffles" are two of the few minor species that, in good samples anyway, show interesting flavors and aromas, much milder than classic black or white truffles but, as SBakall rightly noted, MUCH cheaper too. It doesn't hurt to get some, in season, unless you pay classic-truffle prices, which some people do.

            4. I've heard many knowledgeable people comment similarly on the differences between those cheap species and classic truffles. NONE of those people had anything to do with Europe. I've also seen the occasional less-principled Oregon producer denigrate classic species and promote the confusion I mentioned earlier -- though, it must be said, most of them I've seen don't do this, but sell their product on its own merits. But SBakall's "European truffle farmers" comment is a misleading straw-man argument. Europeans have actually led the marketing of secondary species, because they're vastly more abundant (and gullible foreigners will pay more like classic truffle prices -- just like the 1970s bulk French wine shipment seized by French officials, marked "can be sold as Beaujolais in America"). A few years ago, a backlash occurred among high-end chefs in the San Francisco area (I know some of them) after disappointing cooking experiences followed early over-hyping of Oregon Whites locally by their distributors or producers.

            2 Replies
            1. re: eatzalot

              This thread is an example of why I LOVE chowhound: I learn so much more from people like eatzalot, SBakall, and other hounds than I possibly could just reading magazines and cookbooks.

              Actually, a friend gave me a book that must weigh a kilo--truffles are the solitary subject--and I've never read it. It's probably because my first fresh truffle experience, over two decades ago, was a $40 marble-sized Italian white truffle that I purchased to shave over some mashed potatoes. Whatever aroma it might have had had been completely surrendered to the rice it came with. It might as well have been another potato. I remember thinking that I'd have been better off with a garlic clove. Truffle oil would have been such a blessing. . . I have never attempted to prepare another "fresh" truffle again.

              1. re: pilinut

                Pilinut, I had a very similar experience to you...
                I spent a fortune on an imported truffle (even more expensive here, as we are on the other side of the world!) only to discover that the truffle itself was pfft! Nothing!

                I did some research and discovered that many shippers mix batches of truffles, including something known as a 'chinese truffle' which looks a lot like a black winter truffle but which has almost no scent, in with a few real truffles. So, even though I asked to smell the truffles before buying them, I was hoodwinked.

                I adore truffles, and have found some fairly satisfactory truffle oils, and I will stick to those for the foreseeable future. I know it is mostly 'truffle aroma' rather than truffle, but at least I get something for my trouble!!

            2. I just wanted to say that I've been madly enjoying this jar of truffle salt on so many different foods (and look forward to the longer shelf life, thanks to Pilinut's freezer advice!).

              Of course, scrambled eggs with parm and a pinch of truffle salt/squirt of truffle oil has completely elevated my breakfast experience. I also cut some kernels off the cob and sauteed them in butter, adding the salt at the very end. So tasty, I could've eaten it like candy. It was divine on a filet of otherwise bland tilapia, which I sauteed in butter and then sprinkled the truffle salt over. And so delicious on sauteed green beans with parm!

              1 Reply
              1. re: collegekitchen

                Another all things truffle (including salt) lover here! My husband and I have a house in the middle of truffle country in Europe and have been blessed to go truffle hunting with dogs. We've had truffles fresh out of the ground and most salts and oils just don't even come close. However, there truly are a few good ones. If you love yours, that's awesome. It is amazing how one can just think about truffles and immediately recall the flavour and aroma!!

                The largest white truffle in the world (1.3 kg) was found in Croatia in 1999 but that was beat fairly recently by one in Tuscany (which was sold for $330,000). We've been to lots of truffle festivals and auctions which are absolutely intriguing.