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Summer Truffles [moved from San Francisco board]

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NOTE: We've moved this discussion from the thread at http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/9204... -- The Chowhound Team]

"high end ingredients used to create homey and comforting dishes (eg. summer truffle gohan)."

Porthos -- just as a technical side point to your very thoughtful posts here: "summer truffles" (Tuber aestivum) are not actually a very high-end, high-priced ingredient; for most of modern history they were considered a junk truffle, because they lacked most of the aroma and flavor that made classic truffle types so famous. I've seen them at prices overlapping the common wild mushrooms. As with a related situation I cited in the Champagne/Caviar bar thread, the classic aromatic truffle types have gone, in my adult lifetime and cooking experience, from very to unbelievably expensive and in response, restaurants have dipped into the common but "lesser" underground fungi species as substitutes, sometimes trading on the cachet that the more traditional truffle types earned in recent centuries. Some European purveyors even pass off the T. aestivum as their luxurious cousins in prepared condiments, with prices to match. Sorry to belabor this, but a younger generation of diners is now getting a distorted impression of what all that longstanding truffle hype in the literature was about.

Kind of like when Americans new to wine, a few decades ago, found US products generically labeled "Burgundy" or "Chablis," and formed their impressions of Burgundian wines from those pale imitators.

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  1. Appreciate the detailed response. I didn't mean to imply they were as expensive as alba truffles but even at $30-40/lb I consider that on the luxury ingredient spectrum of things. Plus, who knows how much the below dish would cost using alba white truffles (made with an entire golf ball sized burgundy truffle).

     
    18 Replies
    1. re: Porthos

      Well, they don't make dishes like that using Périgord or Alba truffles (which cost 50 times as much). $30-40 per pound is around the price range of some other pricey but not exorbitant ingredients (e.g. Bay Area chanterelles in season), and most dishes featuring even "summer" truffles use just a small portion.

      I pointed all this out because there is misunderstanding now among consumers (actively exploited by some less principled firms, as I mentioned). I see people online who very mistakenly assume the fresh black "summer truffles" they got in a restaurant dish are the ones Collette, Brillat-Savarin, Marcella Hazan, Julia Child, Paula Wolfert, etc. etc. etc. wrote about. It's apropos, in a topic like this about style vs substance in dining.

      1. re: eatzalot

        I see people online who very mistakenly assume the fresh black "summer truffles" they got in a restaurant dish are the ones Collette, Brillat-Savarin, Marcella Hazan, Julia Child, etc. etc. etc. wrote about.
        ==================

        Since the NYT piece exposed truffle oil, it's less common, but there are still those who equate truffle oil with how the "real thing" is supposed to smell. I think that's far more damaging to this "younger generation" than the less ethereally fragrant but still wonderfully aromatic summer truffle.

        1. re: Porthos

          PS: I have not encountered anyone (including myself) with serious past experience of fresh classic black and white truffles who then describes T. aestivum as "wonderfully aromatic." Usually in restaurant presentations, I've seen small portions of the summer truffle, which were all but flavorless -- as were the whole preserved ones I've tried from Urbani and elsewhere -- except to the extent that they were deliberately tarted up with "real" truffle extracts, or even the fake truffle oil. For the natural aromas and flavors there is really NO COMPARISON.

          A modern response to that might argue that it's very expensive today to gain experience with fresh classic truffles. True enough; but that does not alter the reality of the stark difference between species, or the misperceptions people are getting.

          1. re: eatzalot

            No one is arguing that a summer truffle is close to T. Magnatum or T. Melanosporum. At the same time it is not devoid of smell either. If you have had this prep of rice cooked in truffles with an entire fresh summer truffle shaved over it, it would be hard not to smell the aroma. Is it like the Alba truffles I've had in Rome or Perigord in Paris? No. But the same could be said about porcini or even Alba/Perigord truffles at restaurants here vs the ones in Europe.

            1. re: Porthos

              "No one is arguing that a summer truffle is close to ... T. Melanosporum" [taking the apples-to-apples, summer-truffle to classic black-truffle comparison].

              But in fact, Porthos, even if you have not experienced it yourself, that linkage is exactly what many of today's truffle newcomers _assume,_ and marketing by both producers and restaurants actively encourages them to assume it. That's why I raised this whole issue here.

              In one online case, a fairly food-literate person, who I believe posts here on CH, mentioned having a summer menu with "summer truffles" and it emerged that she hadn't realized they aren't a summertime version of classic black truffles, but a completely different, far milder, (traditionally) much cheaper species.

              I think FWIW that a good minor-species counterpart to the furiously rare and pricey classic Piedmont or Alba "white" truffle (T. magnatum) is the T. oregonense or "Oregon white."  In my experiences, fresh Oregon whites had variable but sometimes notable aroma, similar in intensity to a good aromatic classic wild mushroom, like chanterelle or morel.

              The SF Area does actually produce some first-class wild mushrooms, closely comparable to European examples of similar species. The crucial difference is, those products don't see the pretentious marketing, the routine faking-up via extracts or synthetic aroma, associated with minor truffle species in recent years.

              1. re: eatzalot

                As an aside, Shunji, the chef who made the dish in the photo that Porthos posted above mentioned that a customer once asked for a truffle gohan made with the three most well known species, aestivum, melanosporum, and magnatum. I dubbed it the "tricolore truffle gohan". Too rich for my blood, but I wonder how that would have smelled...

                1. re: PeterCC

                  Would just be black, black, white Peter. ;-)

                  1. re: Porthos

                    Wet blanket.

                    Don't the aestivum often have a darkish cream color in the center? https://www.google.com/search?q=tuber...

                    1. re: PeterCC

                      If you're doing inside it would be cream/beige, black, cream/beige.

                      1. Summer truffle at Shunji
                      2. Perigord on wild boar (pig in a blanket) at Joel Robuchon Vegas.
                      3. Alba truffles over fettuccine at La Campana Rome
                      4. Alba truffles on veal ravioli at Joel Robuchon Vegas

                       
                       
                       
                       
                      1. re: PeterCC

                        I like that "tricolore!" (Even if the dish does suggest nouveau-riche ostentation. Like that 1970s multi-kilobuck French dinner that made Craig Claiborne notorious and drew grumbles from the Vatican. Claiborne's recent biographer fumbled the Vatican reference, by the way; I hope some reviewer caught that.)

                        T. aestivum of my experience had a range of interior color, typically I've seen some form of grey, though they ranged from pale to dark. Much more variable than classic white truffles (magnatum) I've seen, always tan or cream colored inside. What's more noticeable is that the gleba/asci striations (which are so distinctive in T. melanosporum, "black spore" truffles, making those resemble some kind of little brain inside) can be quite faint inside an aestivum, even invisible, leaving a translucent flesh not much different from the inside of a common cultivated mushroom.

                        But I vote for "tricolore."

                        1. re: PeterCC

                          Here you go Peter. Bi- colore with Perigord and Alba truffles.

                           
                2. re: eatzalot

                  I had very aromatic Tuber aestivum in Umbria back before people started synthesizing 2,4-dithiapentane.

                  1. re: Robert Lauriston

                    Meanhwhile...

                    ... matsutake mushrooms are in season and they are gorgeous, aromatic and delicious. I've found excellent ones at Tokyo Fish Market in Berkeley, and almost-as-good at Nijiya in SF.

                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      Alas Robert, that enviable experience does not mean that everyone else will have it. I've had diverse experience with T. aestivum "summer truffles" in restaurants, in which they were consistently very weak; on occasion I called the chef on passing them off as classic black truffles and got knowing, guilty looks and apologies in reply.

                      And ever since Urbani started marketing preserved ones in US supermarkets 12 or 15 years ago (at something like $4 an ounce at the time, before the recent growth of interest in that species), I've noticed that the preserved "summer truffle" products or condiments based on them are often faked up with extracts of more aromatic species, or from the synthetic truffle aroma you cited, which the European truffle-hustle industry finds such poetic euphemisms for. (In Daniel Patterson's famous 2007 NYT article on all commercial truffle oils being essentially fake, one striking detail was the weasel words that producers offered to try to gloss over that central reality.)

                      In some cases, the packaged "summer" truffle products, such as pastes, have been labeled explicitly to misleadingly imply they were based on the vastly pricier classic black truffles -- outright fraud. That trend is part of what's behind my raising these issues here.

                3. re: eatzalot

                  $40 a pound? Tuber aestivum were $52 an ounce at Far West Fungi earlier this year.

                4. re: Porthos

                  Current pricing for truffles from Urbani.

                  T. aestivum (summer truffles): $75/4oz or $300/lb.

                  T. uncinatum (burgundy truffles): $154/4oz or $620/lb

                  Not as exactly cheap.

                  http://urbani.com/truffles/fresh-truf...

                  For the Shunji fans out there, I've had the gohan both with summer and with burgundy truffles. My mistake for using the two interchangeably. They are actually 2 separate species.

                  1. re: Porthos

                    $300/lb (nearing $20 per ounce) for aestivum, in bulk! Amazing.

                    That's about the _dollar_ price (not inflation-adjusted) for the original T. melanosporum black truffles in ounce quantities, early-middle 1980s.

                    All of these products have risen in price much faster than general inflation. I'm thankful to've been born early enough to get serious experience cooking with fresh T. melanosporum and T. magnatum when those were merely very expensive.

                    I first saw aestivum promoted at US retail (as "truffles") 15-odd years ago, at around $3-4 per ounce. Most people buying them certainly mistook them for the T. melanosporum that, literally for centuries, completely dominated lore and food writing re European dark truffles.

                    Those early aestivum were also from Urbani. A firm tireless at promoting that species (in ways tending to obscure differences from the classic T. melanosporum black truffle). Some years back, an Urbani official carefully warned the writer of a mainstream US (NYT?) truffle article about confusion or substitution of inferior T. indicum truffles for pricier species, but said not a word about the similar confusion and substitution that happen with T. aestivum.

                    Some firms have simply sold T. aestivum to gullible consumers as the far pricier T. melanosporum. (What a coffee authority once dubbed in print the "Jamaican Blue Mountain syndrome.")

                    From your and others' reports, Porthos, I gather that good fragrant T. aestivum exist, and I hope to experience them. My frequent cautions concerning "summer truffles" reflect less the product itself (albeit those I've encountered in the US were comparatively bland) than a rich history of fraud and pretense I've seen first-hand.

                    1. re: Porthos

                      Also, the Wikipedia article on Tuber aestivum mentions that the "uncinatum" truffle was revealed in 2004 to be the same species as aestivum (with different range and season), so that they are now scientifically considered two varieties of one species. The article uses the older name aestivum for both, on the recommendation of the authority Ian Hall.

                  2. Tuber aestivum have gotten considerably more expensive than wild mushrooms in recent years.

                    Fresh Tuber melanosporum are still available locally, and not at the stratospheric prices of Tuber magnatum Pico, but the preserved black truffle products I've seen in recent years were all aestivum (which can be good) or worse.

                    http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/879293

                    5 Replies
                    1. re: Robert Lauriston

                      We better not turn this into Yet Another Truffle Thread (I see that the 2012 topic you linked, Robert, revisited yet again the perennial where-can-I-find-fresh-truffles query, hashed out in plenty of past threads on this and other websites).

                      If minor species now sell for much more than local morels or chanterelles, it is partly because of the recent demand for these species, from cooks who scarcely bothered with them just a few years earlier. The Urbani firm in Italy (cited in thread linked above) has been at the very forefront of promoting minor truffle species and exploiting the name confusion, and of other related hustles I've seen.

                      And yes, truffles duller than T. aestivum exist, and show up in restaurants now too as "truffles." A term that was far less ambiguous before 2000 or so. Davidson in the OCF mentions some secondary species (another of my food reference books names them all), but those sources also report no serious rivals to the classic Real Thing: T. melanosporum and T. magnatum.

                      1. re: eatzalot

                        Well, apparently T. Magnatum is now cultivated by a vendor in Croatia so not so classic anymore:

                        http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/890790

                        1. re: Porthos

                          FYI Porthos, people have been trans-mycorhyzing both T. melanosporum (the main classic truffle of history) and T. magnatum to other countries for decades. Significant industries exist in Australia, US, and elsewhere. My father (a wild-mushroom expert) considered trying it in wooded rural California in the 1970s. As a rule, transplanted truffles have shown inferior quality compared to home regions, but it's a trend with potential.

                          I refer here and in past threads (as does Davidson in the aforementioned Oxford book) to the quality classic truffles of a few traditional regions in France and Italy, which account for almost all references to truffles in food writing before about 2005.

                          1. re: eatzalot

                            FYI Eatzalot, been doing some fact checking and the sources I've come across state that T. melanosporum can be cultivated but as of yet, no one has figured out how to cultivate T. magnatum. See below Times article from 2010:

                            "While the inferior black or Périgord truffle can be cultivated, right now there is no other way to get white ones except to set pigs (and, in recent years, dogs) loose on the hills of the Italian piedmont, snorting with pleasure and excitement at the thought of finding precious fungi that their owners won't allow them to eat."

                            Read more: White Truffles: Why They're Such an Expensive Delicacy - TIME http://content.time.com/time/magazine...

                            Here is a link going over which types can be cultivated and where:

                            http://www.tartuficoltura.com/estero/...

                            1. re: Porthos

                              Thanks for the correction, Porthos -- excellent links. I did not realize that mycorrhyzation experiments with the rare T. magnatum were unsuccessful to date.

                              The successful transplantation that has gotten so much publicity (because even this was conventionally thought impossible) is of the classic black T. melanosporum (which already was much more abundant than white magnatum truffles in modern times, even on its home soil). Reflecting a 1970s initiative "Agri-Truffe" of the French ag. research institute INRA. Some background in English:

                              http://www.agritruffe.eu/Agri_Truffe_...