Truffles are hypogeic fungi, meaning they grow underground. The different varieties of truffle all have different growing seasons, and finding them is not an easy matter. Truffle hunting requires true passion and skill, but in Italy this is a regulated profession which also requires practitioners to take a training course and pass an exam in order to be licensed.
Fortunately, though, there are no restrictions on learning about truffles and how to identify them, so that you can be confident you’re make the best choices when purchasing these delicious nuggets.
The body of a truffle is known as a sporocarp. Its size and characteristics vary depending on the truffle species and where it grows. Generally speaking, if a truffle grows in damp soil, its sporocarp will tend to be more spherical; if it grows in rocky soil, the sporocarp will be more irregular and knobbly. The outer skin of a truffle is known as a peridium, while the internal flesh is called gleba.
There are three essential characteristics to bear in mind when assessing the quality of a truffle, which you can remember with the acronym ACC:
- Aroma, which should always be harmonious and well-rounded, regardless of the variation between different species;
- Consistency, when touched, truffles should be compact and firm but bouncy;
- Colour, which should be bright and vibrant.
Truffles’ shelf life greatly depends on the type, weight and seasonality. In general, black truffles last longer than white truffles.
As truffles are made up of around 80% water, it is recommended to store them at a controlled temperature of 2–4°C, ideally in a ventilated refrigerator. To preserve your truffles’ organoleptic properties, wrap them in a paper towel which should always be kept dry to protect them from mildew. A cotton cloth can be used as an alternative to a paper towel.
Rice is not suitable as a storage method because the starch rapidly removes the truffle’s moisture, completely drying it out.
In order to reduce weight loss, it is recommended to store truffles inside an airtight container or covered with a bell jar, and always keep them in the refrigerator.