By Mara Papatheodorou, your Tastes & Traditions Expert
Here’s a fabulous fungi fact: truffles tantalize! Whether black or white, these “culinary diamonds of the forest” are the most intriguing gems of the fungus family. They grow most prominently in the woods of Perigord in southwest France, the Piedmont and Alba areas of Italy, regions of Spain and Croatia as well as parts of Oregon and Washington State. These savory odd-shaped domes of nature have made such a splendid impression that patissiers paid homage to their form by creating sweet chocolate “truffles” that remain a deluxe dessert.
The Greeks and Romans of the 15th century were the first to acknowledge truffles’ allure. These obscure treasured “tubers” (Latin for swollen) were elusive to find, had an enticing earthy aroma and appeared to have an aphrodisiac effect on those who enjoyed them. From that point on, they were highly appreciated and considered an exclusive ingredient with elegant flair. Truffle essence was infused into olive oils while shaved curls or minced bits were often served in eggs or sauces, terrines and over pasta to French noblemen and Italian aristocrats. Today, they are presented in similar ways but also top salads and cheeses.
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Clearly these subterranean wild wonders differ greatly from the commercially grown button, cremini, portobello or oyster mushrooms that are farmed and grown in open fields. In fact, truffles are the most revered relatives of the extensive fungus family and are considered decadent stars. They spawn from tree roots deep in the ground absorbing the color and flavors of the seedlings they are nearest to as they ripen for picking. Only then are they tracked down and uncovered by the supreme sniffing snouts of pigs or trained dogs. France is renowned for its black truffles that thrive in rocky porous terrain and are harvested in summer, autumn and winter. White truffles are prominent in Italy and bloom best in clay soil and make more of a mark in spring and summer.
There is a reason that award winning Master Chef Josiah Citrin has earned the deserved accolade of two Michelin stars at Mélisse, his magnificent American French restaurant in Santa Monica California. Having trained and cooked in France at fine Parisian restaurants early in his career, he gained an intimate understanding and respect for the almighty truffle. Upon his return to the United States and during his climb up the culinary ladder, he knew that fine dining extraordinaire featured the majestic truffle in some form or fashion. “To me the use and presentation the truffle is the ultimate luxury in a dish, on the plate and for the patron’s palate. It says special, romantic, divine. The truffle creates a memory of an exceptional dining experience and that is why I feature them in diverse ways on our menus.”
The triumphant truffle is a dazzling component for a romantic Valentine’s meal. Take a look at this alluring appetizer that is a stunning sight to see and superb on the palate too thanks to the impressive expertise and artistic vision of two-starred Michelin Master Chef Josiah Citrin. Read more in this month's featured chef spotlight with Josiah Citrin >
TOOLS FOR THE TASTE
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