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Truffle season is almost here again and Bear and myself are getting ready to go hunting.
For those not familiar with Bear, she is my 2-year-old Barbet and has featured in The Argus as the finder of the largest black summer truffle found in Sussex on record. Weighing in at a whopping 161 grams!
What is a truffle?
Truffles are the fruiting body of an underground Ascomycete fungus and in my opinion is one of nature’s greatest gifts to the gastronome. The type that grows naturally in Sussex is the black summer truffle (Tuber Aestivum) and has a flavour not too dissimilar to hazelnut. They form a symbiotic relationship with the root system of the trees, helping them take nutrients and moisture from the soil and in turn the fungus has access to carbohydrates. Their spores are spread by fungivores, which is why it makes sense for them to be delicious.
How do you find a truffle?
Truffles grow underground so they are not easy for us to find – which is where Bear comes in. People used to use pigs to find truffles as they would naturally sniff them out due to the truffle having an aroma similar to a pig’s pheromone. The only problem is – they would eat the truffle if given even half the chance! It’s not easy to get a truffle out of a randy pig’s mouth and still keep all of your fingers! Dogs have now become the preferred method of detection. All you need to do is to train your dog to sniff them out knowing they will get their favourite treat in exchange for the truffle! In all honesty, training your dog is the hardest part. It takes a lot of time and patience – not to mention treats and it absolutely must be a fun game for your dog that they enjoy. Not every dog is a truffle hunter. We were really lucky with Bear, even though we went for a breed that is known for truffle hunting ability – there is no guarantee. We had to start training her from a really young age, put in the work whilst making sure it was always exciting, stimulating and something that she actually wanted to do. We have arrived at the point where we are confident that if there are truffles about, we are pretty sure Bear will find them. It’s now just a matter of getting her somewhere where truffles are growing!
Where do black summer truffles grow?
Black summer truffles grow on the roots of certain trees – Beech, Hazel and Oak mainly. They like alkaline soil, so you are really looking for it to be a bit chalky with good drainage. If there are truffles around, there shouldn’t be too much else growing in the way of vegetation on the ground, just a lovely blanket of leaves. This is what is called a brulee and is a really good indication that there may well be truffles around.
What can you do with a black summer truffle?
When you have a fresh truffle, you only have a limited time to use it. This is for a couple of reasons. Firstly the flavour deteriorates rather quickly (a truffle on day one of being plucked from the ground is very different to the same truffle on day 5 or 6). The other reason is that after about day 10 or so there becomes a genuine risk of botulism. Not recommended!
One of the wonderful things about truffles is that they will permeate their flavour into many different ingredients. Many of us have heard about truffles being stored in risotto rice to give it flavour or being stored with eggs for the same reason. These are great ways of getting a truffle flavour without actually using the truffle itself. The best way to preserve truffles without the use of artificial aroma is with honey or salt.
Truffle honey is my absolute favourite accompaniment for bloomy-rinded cheeses such as a brie or camembert and truffle salt is just amazing on everything – especially eggs. If you haven’t tried either of these then click www.barneysdeli.co.uk/shop now and order some with a 10% discount across the entire truffle range! At Barney’s, we stock a wide range of premium truffle products including a variety of truffle spreads, truffle oils and truffle vinegars. As well as whole black summer truffles, truffle carpaccio and truffle salsa.