Practicing Creativity

French & Italian Savory Truffles and the Best Way to Affordably Get That Taste

Provence and Dordogne black winter truffles (Photo: maxpixel.net)

Have you ever tasted a fresh French truffle? If you answer 'No' you're not alone. Before moving to France twenty years ago I hadn't either. I'd only read about them in Peter Mayle's Provence books and wondered if they tasted as good as he made out.

Yes, they do.

A truffle hunting dog (Photo: maxpixel.net)

European savory truffles are a type of fungi found near the roots of oak trees and are related to mushrooms. They are sniffed out by specially trained dogs and pigs (yes, pigs) and are only harvested in the wild, which means from one year to the next you don't know how many you'll find. A bit garlic, a bit mushroom, a bit butter...they have a pungent, rich, full-bodied flavor unlike anything else I have ever tasted.

A black winter truffle (Photo: maxpixel.net)

French black truffles ( Périgord truffles) are found predominantly in the Burgundy and Dordogne regions of France. Black summer truffles are harvested May through September, black winter truffles are harvested November through January and are considered better in taste than the summer ones. White, or Alba truffles are found in the Piedmont and Umbria regions of Italy and are considered the Rolls Royce of truffles. These delicacies carry a price tag reflecting their rarity. In 2019, winter black truffles were selling around $93.00 USD an ounce, white truffles were going for around $214.00 an ounce. This explains why they're sometimes referred to as black and white diamonds.

If you can afford it, buy fresh truffles, there is no true substitute. Unfortunately, I don't know too many people who can afford to buy fresh truffles on a regular basis; I know I can't. For me they'll have to stay a special rare treat. But, there are ways to affordably get that truffle taste. No, not exactly like fresh, but pretty darn close.

What you have to be careful about when looking at truffle substitues and truffle labelled products are the actual ingredients. In France, there are laws as to how truffle derived products can be sold. If you see something sold as 'aromatisé', 'saveur' or 'goût de truffe' (which would translate to 'flavored', 'seasoning', or 'taste of' in English) no real truffle has to be included. It can be just the 'aroma' of truffle. That doesn't mean it's a bad tasting product per say, but it's worth looking at the ingredient list before you buy. You don't want to pay a lot for something labeled as truffle, that contains no real truffle at all! 

If something is sold as 'à la truffe' (with truffle), it must have at least 1% minimum truffle and if it's being sold as 'truffé' (truffled) it must have 3% minimum truffle. Of course, French labeling laws would not apply in the States, but again, this is something to keep in mind. It's always better to read the ingredients and know what you're getting.

Sabatino Truffle Zest – front and center in my spice cabinet

Don't let any of that put you off trying a truffle derived product. There are some very tasty ones out there, especially oils, which I use often. And then there is the Italian Sabatino's Tartufi Truffle Zest, which has become a staple in my kitchen (note – Sabatino's is not giving me anything for this recommendation – but I wish they would, they sell fresh truffles, too!). This seasoning has 1% real truffle (at least in Europe, best check the label in the States) and has a consistency like garlic powder. You can add it to just about anything. I like it in scrambled eggs, omelettes, sautéed mushrooms, and fresh mayonnaise, to name but a few. Seattle Cousin visited us last fall and we introduced him to it. He loved it and bought some while he was here. Once home, he quickly used it up and was pleased to be able to find a replacement in the States. I, however, was not pleased...I found out it's less expensive in the States than here. Go figure.

5 comments

  1. Very interesting!! I have heard about truffles but never really looked up what they were. When I hear "truffle" I think chocolate. lol The price of them is crazy!! I don't know if I could justify the cost.....though if they weren't so good they wouldn't be sold at that price so....

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    1. They really are delicious! But, alas...the price is somewhat off putting for the fresh ones.

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  2. I've never had an actual truffle, just truffle-flavored things and they were not real expensive...so I don't know if I got the essence of a truffle or not! Your story is very interesting, and I never saw a photo of the inside of one. Also, isn't that funny that this seasoning is cheaper in the States than where you live??

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    1. I think sometimes things are less expensive in the States because the market is bigger. And then, sometimes what might look like the same product isn't. Ingredients in Europe will be different than ingredients in the States. Like coke for example, a coke in France has different ingredients and a different taste than a coke in the US!

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  3. Peter Mayle's Provence books certainly are enjoyable. I have not heard of the truffle seasoning. Though we did enjoy truffles while vacationing in France.

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