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Black truffles (scientific name Tuber melanosporum), unlike many other species of mushroom, are completely subterranean which means that they naturally grow underneath the earth’s surface. This makes them similar to the Poria mushroom described elsewhere.
They are perhaps the most highly valued mushroom by chefs and gourmets; according to French texts circa the 1700s, the French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin was the first culinary expert to call truffles as “the diamond of the kitchen”. Today, they are a popular delicacy in French, Spanish, Italian, Croatian, and Middle Eastern cuisine.
Because of their scarcity, they are one of the most highly priced mushrooms species in the world and can cost between $1000 and $2000 per pound depending on the season. They rival mushrooms such as Matsutake in price, hence they are often found in expensive gourmet restaurants.
Where To Find Black Truffles And When
Black truffle mushrooms grow natively in Central Europe and Mediterranean regions, although they also grow in New Zealand and the U.S. on a smaller scale. Perhaps the most distinguished region where black truffles grow on a large scale and are then exported to other countries is the Perigord district of Southwestern France.
Black truffles are usually spotted just beneath the roots of oak, birch, fir, and hazelnut trees in moist soil conditions.
They are available almost all year round except for Winter.
How To Identify Them
Black truffles, as their name suggests, are black for the most part, however, they may bear tiny white or reddish spots on their surface. Their shape resembles that of a small lumpy potato and their texture is also irregular with small protrusions that look similar to black avocados and berries.
Their strongest feature, however, is their strong and distinct smell which some describe as something similar to dark olive oil. Because of their extra strong smell, animals like pigs or dogs can sniff them out from several yards away.
Black truffles do not have any poisonous lookalikes, however, there are some false and semi-toxic species like Choiromyces meandriformis and Choiromyces magnusii which are somewhat similar in shape and texture, but which are light brown in color.
How To Grow Black Truffles
It’s only possible to grow black truffle mushrooms at your property using a medium to large area as black truffles especially are next to impossible to grow in smaller settings. You need to have planted oak, hazelnut, pine or birch trees already for the mushrooms to grow. If you own a big orchard where you can plan at least 10 trees of the above types, even better. Also, bear in mind that black truffles can only be cultivated in regions with 4 distinct seasons.
The basic steps to grow them are as follows:
No.1: Make sure you have inoculated seedlings for black mushrooms. These refer to young trees injected with black truffle spores.
No.2: To plant your seedlings, ensure that the soil pH level is between 7.5-8.3. You may use special tools or consult your local agricultural authorities to test your soil’s pH level for free.
No.3: Make sure your trees grow with an efficient irrigation system that waters the trees with approx. 1 inch (2.5 cm) of water per week. For smaller scale plantings, a long hose will suffice.
No.4: Keep irrigating your seedlings for 24 months. Make sure to remove any growing weed around the trees manually (do not use any chemicals like weed killers).
No.5: Wait another three years to harvest your first truffles (5 years in total). Do not dig the soil before their time is up as you risk damaging them. Harvest them preferably in late Autumn. Signs that they have fully grown are dead grass and darkened soil around the tree seedlings.
Black truffles are very rich in nutrients like Vitamin C, Vitamin K, phosphorus, magnesium, copper, zinc, iron and manganese. They have an immense antioxidant value which is useful for fighting oxidative stress and the aging of the body’s cells.
Some studies have found that due to their antimicrobial properties, they are useful for treating bacterial skin infections such as Staphylococcus. Some other studies have shown potential anti-cancer properties, especially in colon, cervical, and liver cancers.
How To Cook Black Truffles
Black truffles are great when thinly sliced in pasta, rice, soup, and stew dishes. Wipe them clean with a wet cloth but don’t wash them directly under running water.
It helps if you have a mandoline slicer to cut them out into even slices, around ⅓” (1.2 cm) thick.
Ingredients (4-5 portions):
- 1 pack spaghettini
- 2 black truffle mushrooms, wiped and thinly sliced
- 1 tablespoons butter
- ½ cup parmesan cheese
- 5 cups vegetable stock
- Pepper (freshly ground)
- Cook the spaghettini in the vegetable stock for 7-8 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- Heat the butter in a frying-pan and add the mushroom slices. Cook for one minute on each side. Add freshly ground pepper.
- Serve the mushroom slices on top of the pasta and sprinkle with the parmesan cheese.
Black truffles are definitely a culinary treasure. If you can afford their high price tag (or forage for them yourself) you will enjoy mushrooms that are highly flavorful and aromatic, perhaps the best tasting in the world.
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