The Great Truffle Debate

 

On Sunday I watched a story on 60 Minutes about the most expensive food in the world– truffles. They talked about how European white truffles can sell for up to $3,600 per pound. Due to the increasing scarcity of European truffles and inflated prices, a black market has emerged around the truffle trade.

People love truffles. They are considered the ultimate foodie’s treat. Restaurants pay exorbitant amounts to stock them. A few shavings to top your meal can cost hundreds of dollars in France. They’re said to possess aphrodisiac qualities. Here in the U.S., food lovers are willing to spend $150 on a gourmet “truffle burger.”

Quite honestly? I don’t get it.

I didn’t even know what a truffle was until about 10 years ago. If somebody said the word truffle, I thought of a rich chocolate bonbon, not a fungus. It wasn’t until after college, when I ate at my first “super fancy restaurant,” that I learned what all the fuss is about. I saw the price of a truffle pasta dish and nearly choked on my breadstick. These rare mushrooms are worth their weight in gold.

I just can’t seem to jump on the bandwagon. I’ve tried truffles a few times, mostly at gourmet tasting events when my husband’s not around. He can’t stand the smell of them, so I never order them when we go out. He’s not a picky eater by any means, but truffles are on his “yuck” list, so I usually avoid them on his behalf. They’re super expensive, and I don’t particularly love them, so it’s no big loss on my part. Though it may shock many “gourmands” to read this, I’m not a big fan. They have an interesting flavor, but if somebody told me I’d have to spend the rest of my life without a taste of truffle, I’d be just fine with that.

And yet, many food lovers swear about the intoxicating, flavorful power of the truffle. Just what is it about this mushroom that excites so many, and makes them willing to pay through the nose for a taste? I’m sure my friend Erika Kerekes will weigh in– she hosts a popular annual event called Trufflepalooza, where every dish (even dessert!) is made with truffles.

Watch this video from 60 Minutes and let me know what you think. Are truffles really worth all this fuss? Have you tried them? Maybe I’m in the minority here. How do you feel about truffles?

 

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  1. I have to agree with you – I’ve had dishes with truffle a few times in restaurants, and I’ve also tried truffled cheese, and I don’t hate it but I don’t love it…I think it’s fine, but not really something I want to pay a ton of money for.

  2. I absolutely agree with you.I once ate guinea-fowl stuffed with truffels. It was delicious, but the truffles did not top the meal, it was just a hint of earthy taste. Then I tried a small piece of it and was disappointed.

    But, you said Truffles are the most expensive food, I thought it’s Saffron?

    1. That’s a good point– not sure how saffron compares to truffles in terms of price. One thing is certain, I’d be much more comfortable spending some money on a good quality saffron than I would on truffles! :)

  3. Agree wholeheartedly! Truffles are okay, but nothing to write home about — or mourn the loss of. By the way, just found your site a couple weeks ago, and LOVE the recipes I’ve found so far — thank you!

  4. I love everything about truffles, from the earthy seductive smell, to the flavor that’s like nothing else. A couple of months ago, I was at Le Bernardin in NYC and had cod over artichoke barigoule, with shaved truffles and truffle butter; I was in heaven. But I have friends, who hate truffles — often they’re the same people, who hate the taste of cilantro.

  5. Sorry but Ilovethem. The otherchefsIwork with agree. Whenyouhavegoodtruffles and not the Chinese knock offs they are out of this world. A little truffle oil on a perfectly grilled steak at the end to finish it makes the meal unbelievable. Good truffle cheese with a glass of wine will send the evening in the right direction. Please send me all the truffles you don’t want and I will pit them to good use.

  6. I am with you all. I have voluntarily eaten dishes with truffles but always wonder what the madness is about. The flavor is earthy and rich and almost like “eating an aroma.”
    Would I be upset at never having a truffle again? Not.
    I do have a bit more zeal about truffle oil, however…in mashed/pureed potatoes, it adds a silky texture and a more subtle earthy flavor to the dish.
    With all that said, I am on a mission to visit the restaurant on France mentioned in that 60 Minutes segment!

  7. My French cuisine instructor’s very first words in our class were:

    “If you believe you need more than a knife, a fork, a spoon, a skillet and basic foods and spices to become a gourmet chef, you might as well leave now.” I did not exit the class and he was correct.

    Keeping on hand a tad bit of truffle oil is probably, the best idea for someone who wants the flavor, infrequently, but I’m a big chunk ingredient fan in my kitchen. Our “peasant” – seen the prices, lately? – choices of mushrooms not only taste wonderful when prepared to their best credit, they present well – raw, or cooked.

    Folks may, certainly, eat as they like and to their ability to pay, but I tend to agree with our author.

    Enjoy!

  8. Hi Tori,
    I watched the story on Sunday, too, and, quite frankly, don’t get it either! I agree . . . truffles are definitely not worth all that fuss!!!

  9. I do love truffles – it must be a pheromone thing. They put me in a good mood no matter what.

    If you ever come across them, try the Oregon white and black truffles they’re harvesting now in the Pacific northwest. They grow mostly among the roots of Douglas firs and are kissing cousins biologically to the European truffles. A lot less expensive (about $20/ounce retail) and with a funkiness that’s all their own. I adore them. The season is approximately December through March.

    1. Will do, Erika! Wish they were harvested in summer, I’ll be headed through Oregon on a road trip to the BlogHer food conference. Can you buy them locally?

  10. My partner surprised me with a small *black* truffle (maybe about 25 grams worth – was the size of a walnut in its shell; cost him maybe 27 euro or $32-33.) that he picked up fresh at one of the vendors at our local market. This was enough to make us a few dishes of about the best scrambled eggs I’ve ever had in my life with a small bit leftover to soak in olive oil.

    The black ones go for 1000-1200 euro/kg or maybe $600-675/lb and have been told that they’re better than the white ones. It’s best to get them fresh if you can (a good dealer will seal your truffle hermetically on the spot) and to buy it as close to the time you’re going to use it as possible. It’s important, too, to buy them from someone you trust as there’re problems with unscrupulous vendors selling white ones dyed black or even soaking the truffles in oil and then selling what remains.

    It’s a small luxury and one that I thought to be overhyped at first, as well. A small bit in a very simple dish changed my mind about that…am going to see if I can’t talk him into another truffle for my birthday, even.

    As for the saffran – love it, love it, love it too. Unfortunately, got hooked on the nowadays really expensive and increasingly hard to find stuff from a country I believe the country I’m living in’s got sanctions against.

  11. I have never been able to splurge enough to try truffles, so I unfortunately can’t weigh in here except that I have had truffle oil at my parents and I thought it was very so-so. Nothing, for sure, to go ga-ga crazy about! Nice to have found your blog!

  12. I get it, but I do love truffles. I love truffle pecorino cheese and truffle prosciutto cotto. But I worked in an Italian Restaurant for a long time and by those standards if I didn’t like it I probably would of been fired. haha I would probably spend my money on something else if it came down to it but I keep on hand truffle salt and truffle oil black and white just in case I have a hankering for the flavor. I’ve had white truffles from Italy in Piedmont region that were flown in and it blew my mind they were insanely expensive. It gives food a different dimension and I don’t think there’s any flavor really like it. I’m a huge mushroom person. I like that its a special thing but I wouldn’t miss them too much. :)

  13. Im with your husband… Can’t stand the smell. They smell like feet to me. My husband just does not like them period. Now morel mushrooms? Talk about a good earthy taste! And we like all other mushrooms (that we know of), just not the smelly truffles.

  14. I’ve never tried real truffles, but they were selling black truffles in the Wegman’s near me for $200 each…under lock and key…i just thought it was so cool, but couldn’t imagine myself ever spending that kind of cash on food…
    I had a potato dish with truffle oil in a restaurant near me which was amazing, but I’ve read that truffle oil is not nearly as good as fresh truffles…

  15. That’s funny I just made bagels with truffle salt on my blog yesterday! Personally, I love truffles, but I don’t necessarily think they were worth the price. They are expensive mostly because they are hard to capture and the demand is there. Truffle salt is not especially pricey and I sprinkle it on anything to up the fancy factor- it is especially good in mac n cheese and mashed potatoes!

  16. I’m on the fence about truffles – in some dishes, like a really great beef carpaccio or a creamy mushroom soup, they’re divine, but other times they overpower all the other flavours in the dish and, for lack of a better word, are way too funky-smelling. And a little truffle salt or truffle oil on an otherwise straightforward steak is pure heaven. :)
    I guess it just boils down to using them judiciously, and only when appropriate. I think some restaurants throw them on everything in an attempt to be fancy.

  17. I am not a fan of anything fungus like. I keep eyeing the oil but since I don’t like regular old mushrooms I am not sure truffle oil will go over well with me. I don’t understand the fuss. I mean it’s not like it tastes like chocolate or anything. I mean if there was a rare chocolate we had to have animals sniff out of the ground I’d gladly drop my mortgage payment down on it but until then I’ll hang on to my money.

  18. I actually like truffles…but in very small quantities! I have to be honest – I am just as happy with truffle oil as I am with actual truffles.

  19. Truffles are ok, i think, but i rather have any other mushroom before truffles, they dont appeal for me that much. Even now that i live in France and have access to them, i dont really appreciate them, i think its more of smell wich gets people to use them. Or that they havent had chance to eat real wild mushrooms prepared minimal way. Truffle oil is one bottle wich goes untouched here, its too much stinging the smell or “taste”, wich overpowers everything where you use it. Or if i want to be nasty, i could say its way of hide inperfect taste of dish my using those. But everone’s should eat what they like/ have afford. Im glad to leave truffles to those who appreciate them.

  20. I’d have to taste true truffles before I could have an opinion one way or the other. And I certainly won’t be able to afford that anytime soon, at the prices I’ve been hearing. If they’re anything like mushrooms I have tasted, I can take them or leave them. I do LOVE chocolate truffles, tho, and can actually afford them! :D

  21. Truffles, if used properly, are a great addition and “spice” of life. I rarely use them because they do not fit the flavor profile I am attempting to create in a dish. The sliced truffle on all dishes seems to be a look-at-me-I-am-a-gourmet fad. As with all things, they have a place and a purpose. Water and oxygen are the only true needs of living.

  22. With its intense sensuous earthy perfume…I cannot resist the truffle!

    We don’t “need” Krug Grande Cuvée either, but how fortunate we are to be able to take pleasure in these treasures!

    Great post Tori, and I really enjoyed reading all the comments.
    LL

  23. I don’t think I’ve had anything made with truffles that has wowed me. I have truffle salt and have used truffle oil…then there’s the truffle butter I heard raves about to spread under chicken skin before roasting. I may have to try that before giving my final verdict. But spending big bucks on the actual truffle will never happen…I’d rather buy good chocolate :)

  24. I watched that same episode that night. It was so interesting – and I can’t believe how much truffles cost! It’s crazy! That said, I have had truffles in a few recipes and I’d be on the side of those that find it intoxicating. There’s something about truffles that make me just want to start shoveling the food in my mouth in a very unlady-like way. ;)

  25. I’m going to weigh in with the minority here who love truffles! I love their earthy taste but can rarely afford this little taste of heaven:-( I’m frugally working on a small container of truffle butter that I’ve been hoarding. I’m down to half a container and it’s making me sad. lol

  26. I love the smell and taste of truffles. I have been to Paris many times and had the good fortune of eating in wonderful restaurants and experiencing truffles. They are way too expensive for my budget but have opted to use truffle butter (Whole Foods) and truffle salt (CIA shop on their campus). These both enhance the flavors of any foods you cook.

  27. I see where you are coming from, but I LOVE truffles! I live in Oregon and we have a thriving amateur mushroom hunting community that includes truffles. I don’t like all the incarnations truffles have traveled but 2 that I do like…truffle oil and truffle salt. On popcorn. On french fries. On steak. Very reasonably priced products if you know where to search. I have found them at Marshall’s and Ross Dress For Less!

  28. I say buy some truffle oil, truffles & salt and truffle butter and you will have all the truffle flavor you need to get just the right touch without it being overwhelming. I do love the flavor that these condiments impart and you can use them at a much lower cost.

  29. I guess i’m in the minority, but I love truffles. A bit of truffle oil on tater tots makes them an extravagant appetizer. For Chanukah dinner, I made a mushroom truffle risotto with fresh Oregon truffles. No leftovers! I made a lobster truffle fettucine that was the hit of another dinner. The key is to use it sparingly, it should accent and not overpower the dish. maybe some day I’ll make a truffle kugel!
    BTW, made your mushroom barley soup today. Excellent recipe—thanks!

  30. I had my first (and only) taste of black truffles about forty years ago.We went to Disneyland Calif. to experience the new Pirates of the Caribbean and the new New Orleans “land”. For the first time we splurged and dined at the fancy restaurant in New Orleans Disneyland,overlooking the pirates. I ordered sirloin tips. the sauce was delicious,the taste was exquisite! I asked the waiter what those black things were on top of my sirloin tips he said TRUFFLES, it’s like mushrooms, well, It was the best taste my mouth ever felt. Since then three different times I have been gifted a bottle of “truffle oil” which was oil with1%truffle “FLAVOR “. Every time it was really disgusting.The oil tasted rancid and the flavor was bad, and linger on your tongue and in your mouth like garlic that had gone bad. It was not like anything I ever remembered of the taste of truffles.

  31. I had my first truffle tonight and all I can say is ‘uuurrrrgh’. I was feeling like a total barbarian until I came across this page, thanks Tori :]

  32. They say you’ll love them or hate them. I love them, hate them, or feel indifferent to them depending on the day. Even when making the exact recipe, somedays I don’t know how I lived without truffle flavor, and other days I can’t believe I spent so much money on this tiny little pungent bag of truffle salt.

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