I love truffles, they enhance the pleasure of eating for so many different dishes. Unfortunately, it is impractical to keep fresh truffles around at home just so you can shave some onto your food whenever the need arises. That’s not to say truffles can’t be used in home cooking. Bottled or Jarred Truffle Produce can be kept in the fridge for a long time, they capture the aroma and flavor of truffles nicely and there is a variety of such products to choose from, including Truffle Paste, Truffle Sauce, Truffle Cream and Truffle Mustard.
Rudimentary Naming Conventions for Truffles
- White Truffle is the more expensive variety, as they can only be found in the wild using specially trained pigs or dogs. The best White Truffles come from Piedmont in Italy. These are also called Summer or Alba Truffles.
- Black Truffles are less, but still expensive. They cost less as they can be cultivated, albeit with some effort. It’s debatable if they are really inferior to the White Truffle. Maybe they cost less simply because they are more common. The best Black Truffles come from Perigord in France, so Black Truffles are sometimes called Perigord Truffles, and also Winter Truffles.
- Both Black and White Truffles can be found beyond the borders of Italy and France, but these are generally considered to be inferior cousins to the Alba and Perigord.
- ‘Tartufo’ is Italian for truffle, ‘Tartufi’ the plural and ‘Tartufata’ is Italian for truffle product. If you see any of these on the bottle, it is a product of Italy. ‘Truffe’ is French for truffles. If you see this on the label, this means the bottle is from France.
- The truffle percentage content is an indicator of quality, and it varies greatly from product to product. Always determine the country of origin and check the truffle percentage content before buying any bottled truffle produce.
Basic Guidelines for Cooking with Truffles
- Heat dissipates the aromatics of truffles and since truffles are 80% aroma and 20% taste, cooking truffles is tantamount to not having truffles in the first place. Thus one only adds the truffles after the cooking is done.
- Truffles go with savoury foods. Macaroni and cheese for example tastes great with truffles. Pasta in a consommé reduction is another viable pairing with truffles. Sour and sweet foods are the opposite. So truffles don’t work with tomato based sauces, vinegar, red wine reductions or anything with fresh or preserved fruits.
- Don’t use fragrant ingredients that compete with the truffles for the centre stage. Garlic, raw celery and onions, sardines, smoked meats, blue cheese, BBQ sauce are all foods to avoid with truffles. Mild foods on the other hand serve as the perfect medium for truffles. Some examples are scrambled, steamed or poached eggs, butter, brioche, mushrooms, potatoes and cream soups.
Truffle Paste (Pate)
This is bottled truffle produce of the highest quality and needless to say it is also the most expensive. According to the label at the back of the jar, it is 70% truffles by weight with the remainder being mostly olive oil and truffle juice. Truffle Paste has the most intense aroma, and luxurious taste and texture.
As you might expect something this expensive would be from France and will usually contain the phrase ‘Pâte de Truffe’ on the jar. Actually it is not really a paste, but more a suspension of truffle bits in oil. Do not get misled by the term pâte, pâte does not need to contain foie gras or liver; this is pâte made from truffles.
Use this when the truffle is meant to be a topping, akin to caviar, say like when served on a blini. In other words your intention is to taste the truffle directly in a concentrated dose, as opposed to mixing it into some food. Of course if cost is of no concern to you, then use it all the time by all means.
Truffle Sauce (Salsa)
Truffle Sauce is a less concentrated version of bottled truffle more suitable for every day use and gram for gram it is perhaps only a tenth of the price of Truffle Paste. It is more common in Italy, and the label will usually say “Salsa Tartufata” or “Salsa di Tartufo”, but not always. Sometimes it is also ‘mislabelled’ as a pate (see the top picture, a truffle pate from Italy is actually a sauce). Typically the truffle content of Truffle Sauce is somewhere in the 3-5% region, with most of the rest of the solids in the bottle being minced mushrooms. Don’t look down on Truffle Sauce, it still packs a punch with its truffle aroma.
If you are stirring truffle into your scrambled eggs, pasta or a cream of mushroom soup, this is probably the type of truffle product you’d use. I also use for truffle mayonnaise. Truffle Sauce is also an ideal gift to bring to a casual home dinner, instead of that boring bottle of wine.
Truffle Cream is in the same quality category as Truffle Sauce and also tends to be an Italian product. The truffle content will be around the same, that is to say 3-5%, but it is typically (but not always) light coloured and has a more creamy texture. In Italian the label is similar to Truffle Sauce except the word ‘Salsa’ is replaced with ‘Sapor’ or ‘Crema’. ‘Sapor’ means flavour or taste. You are also more likely to see labels in plain English as it is produced in various Commonwealth countries too. Unlike Truffle Paste and Sauce, Truffle Cream contains more than just truffles, mushrooms and oil. If you have a look at the nutrition information you’ll see additional ingredients like vegetable extracts, herbs, spices and emulsifiers.
One of the best ways to use Truffle Cream is to mix it into a cream sauce like hollandaise or béarnaise. Another is mashed potatoes. In general, the time to use Truffle Cream is with light coloured food. This way you get the taste and aroma of truffles but not dark flecks of truffle, and your guests will be pleasantly surprised.
The truffle content of Truffle Mustard is usually not stated but I can’t imagine it to be much given its price. Its even cheaper than Truffle Sauce and Cream. It tends to be French in origin and the label might say something like ‘Moutarde a la Truffe’.
This type of truffle product is best just as a condiment with steak, roast pork and game birds. Not so much with lamb or chicken. Basically it as a really expensive mustard, so use it as such.
Truffle Oil is the least desirable kind of truffle product and I really don’t recommend it, which is why I don’t have any on hand to take a photo of. I suppose you could use it for salads. It contains very little truffle and is not value for money. If you insist on buying Truffle Oil look for bottles with a few flakes of truffle in them for many actually contain no truffle at all and are purely artificially flavoured. Alternatively, get a bottle of truffle pate, divide it into 20 bottles and top them off with olive oil.
Whole and Sliced Truffle
The other type of bottled truffle I am not too keen on is whole or sliced truffle in oil. The solids are 100% truffle and this makes it very expensive. When it comes to truffles texture is secondary to aroma and flavour. In my opinion the effect of having large pieces of truffle on your food compared to small bits is really not that much.
Please note I am not endorsing any of the brands featured here. These bottles are just what I happened to have in the fridge at the time.