Celebrated as a delicacy, an aphrodisiac and even a type of natural medicine, this warty fungus is one of the world's rarest and most expensive foods. Taking up to ten years to mature, the truffles grow underground and are harvested in Italy and France with the aid of female pigs or truffle dogs, which can detect the strong smell of mature truffles underneath the ground.
WHEN SHOULD I EAT THEM?
To enjoy truffles at their best, you must eat them fresh and uncooked as soon as possible after they have been harvested. The white truffle season runs from September to December, while the black truffle season is December to March.
WHERE CAN I BUY THEM?
The strength of the truffle flavour decreases very quickly once it has been harvested. Ideally, they should be purchased from a speciality shop which imports fresh, refrigerated truffles overnight. You can buy them from the Italian deli Valvona & Crolla in Edinburgh.
HOW SHOULD I STORE THEM?
Truffles can be frozen for up to two weeks in a freezer-proof glass jar. You can also store them whole, in bland oil, for around a fortnight. This will preserve the truffle as well as flavouring the oil.
HOW DO I PREPARE THEM?
Remove any soil from your truffles just before eating them by washing them with water and gently brushing them. They must be spotless, as they will be eaten unpeeled.
WHAT SHOULD I SERVE THEM WITH?
Truffles should be grated or sliced with a truffle slicer directly on to food and into sauces or soups, just before eating. They should not be cooked, as the heat will damage the flavour and aroma. Cream and cheese sauces will soak up their flavour, and they work well with chicken, fish, souffles, omelettes, pasta and risottos. Alternatively, you can make truffle butter by finely grating a fresh truffle and adding it to softened unsalted butter. You can spread truffle butter on crackers or bread, or have it with a baked potato.
The pungent odour of a truffle will penetrate eggshells and flavour rice when it is stored with them in a refrigerator, in a closed glass jar, for about three days. The eggs can then be used in an omelette and the rice in pilaf.