PLEASE NOTE WE WILL NOT BE DELIVERING ON THURSDAY, NOV. 26. HAVE A HAPPY THANKSGIVING!

Unearthing the Mystery of Truffles with Urbani

December 17, 2019

For thousands of years the elusive truffle has been an enchanting delicacy for some, unpalatable to others, yet a source of intrigue to all. Small, but mighty, this foraged find is hard to locate, costly to buy, and finicky to grow, making it all the more attractive for indulgence on special occasions. We decided to sit down with expert Joe Freemond of Urbani to get the scoop on all things truffle, just in time for holiday celebrations. Founded in Italy in 1852, Urbani is a 6th generation family business – and also the world’s largest truffle company. Joe’s background as a chef led him to represent Urbani’s USA leg as Midwest Area Manager.  

Growing Conditions

Although truffles have spores like fungi, they are tubers because they grow underground. They grow attached to the roots of trees with which they have a symbiotic relationship. The three most common tree varieties where truffles can be found are oak, chestnut and hazelnut. Further, the growing conditions truffles require are very particular and are getting more evasive with recent climate change. The humidity and temperature must be balanced in just the right way. As Joe puts it, “It can’t be too hot or too cold, too wet or too dry.”

The Truffle Hunting Process

Urbani relies on hundreds of independent contractors in Italy and France to harvest truffles. These contractors work with highly trained dogs, who sniffs out the truffles’ locations in exchange for treats. In the past, pigs were used for the job. However, over time dogs replaced them for not only their more obedient behavior, but also because it allowed the hunters to be more discrete. Moreover, truffle foragers usually go out in the woods or orchards between 3 or 4 A.M., in order to keep their truffle hunting locations a secret. Once a cluster of truffles is found, the hunters are careful to cover back up any holes made, and will often check the same spot a few days later, as spores left behind may produce more crop.

Transportation

Although Urbani harvests truffles mainly in Italy and France, they have offices and clients in over 60 countries. Once harvested, the process of getting truffles on the plates of hungry foodies is quite a fascinating, as well as delicate, process. Joe affirms “Ideally, we get fresh truffle in the hands of a chef within 36 to 48 hours of them coming out of the ground… Once the truffle hunter collects what he can in the time that he is out (we’re talking a few ounces, maybe a pound), he will meet up with a rep from Urbani. Our reps take the truffles to a facility to be graded, sorted and weighed.” There the truffles are classified based on appearance, aroma and firmness. “Everything that looks great, smells great, and is in one piece is set aside to be sold as fresh truffles. Anything else that is blemished, broken or cracked is set aside to be used in any truffle products that Urbani makes.” Next, the truffles are overnighted by plane from Rome to the client’s country of residence. In our case, they are overnighted to New York, Urbani’s USA headquarters. There, they are rushed through customs, graded and sorted again, and repackaged to be overnighted straight to the purchaser. Joe explains “Truffles are 90% water, so the moment they get pulled out of the ground they start losing moisture and losing weight, and therefore losing money. Time is of the essence to get fresh product into the hands of chefs and consumers.”

 Storage

During travel time the truffles are wrapped in paper towels, in paper bags and on ice. Joe reveals “The key thing with truffle storage is to keep everything nice and dry.” It is best to keep them lightly wrapped in a container that allows them to breathe. At Urbani facilities the truffles are stored in baskets covered with cloth. Once the truffle is in the hands of the consumer, it is recommended to change out the wrapping every day until the truffle is used, to keep it as dry as possible. “You never want to store truffles in any kind of sealed plastic container. You also never want to store truffles in rice – it will dry them out,” Joe states. While storage time depends on the variety, truffles usually last between 3 and 10 days. Once you cut into the truffle, you have 36 hours to use it.

Classifications

Although there are between 30 and 40 species of truffles, only 6 or 7 are edible. Of the edible varieties, truffles are classified by size, appearance and aroma. Joe expresses “Aroma is the first and foremost quality characteristic.” Then the texture, the firmer the better. Next, the length of season and amount that is available determines how rare the truffle is. The rarer the truffle, the more desirable, and a result, the more expensive it is. Based on these three characteristics, it is no surprise that the “King of Truffles” is the White Winter Truffle. With its short season, very unique aroma and incredible difficulty in finding and harvesting, the price of this truffle can go up into the thousands. Further, while black winter and black summer truffles can be artificially cultivated, the white winter truffle is purely a product of nature.

Cooking with Truffles    

Another distinction between white and black truffles is the flavor. Black truffles have more of an earthy flavor profile, closest to a mushroom. White truffles are “more aromatic and floral, with a slight note of garlic,” Joe describes. In totality however, truffles don’t have a lot of flavor to them – it is all about the aroma. Incorporating them in dishes that are too spicy or acidic overpowers the elegant essence of the truffle. On the other hand, they work exceptionally well with fatty foods, like steak, eggs, and buttered pasta. Joe adds “Keep things nice and simple, letting the truffle shine through.” His favorite way to enjoy truffles? Over handmade pasta or risotto with lots of butter and fresh parmesan cheese. Furthermore, it is not necessary to heavily cook truffles. While black varieties are a bit heartier, white only need to be thinly shaved on top of a dish right before serving. The heat from the dish will do the work for you.

Other Truffle Products 

While fresh truffles are the pride and joy of Urbani’s products, they also prioritize innovation. Especially innovation that “creates offerings that will allow the general public to enjoy truffle without necessarily having to incur the expense of fresh truffle, if that’s not something in their range of affordability,” Joe explains. “We offer a lot of salts, honeys, and even potato chips… things that can allow people to enjoy truffle in a much more approachable way.” Whether you are a fresh truffle fanatic, are ready to splurge for the first time, or just want to get a taste of what the fuss is all about, it seems like Urbani is ready to share their passion with you. It’s no surprise the highly coveted truffle is popping up on celebratory tables more and more. Why not join in on the foodie festivities this holiday season?

 

 

Written by Marianna Marchenko