America’s European Black Truffle Revolution

Article by Robert Chang, Chief Truffle Officer, American Truffle Company®

Through the advancement of science, the European black truffle, sometimes also known as the Périgord black truffle, is now cultivated and produced in North America. This makes ultra-fresh black truffles available to food service professionals and chefs. 

Different types of truffles

There are thousands of different species of truffles worldwide. Like mushrooms, truffles are part of the fungus family. Unlike mushrooms, all truffles form underground because they live in a symbiotic relationship on the roots of host trees. Almost every locale has its own various species of native truffles, each with its distinct aroma, flavor and texture. A few species in particular have such intoxicating and primal aroma and flavor that they are prized by chefs the world over. For example, the Italian white truffle (Tuber magnatum) is the most expensive, routinely fetching thousands of dollars per pound. Science has not cracked the code on how to reliably and consistently cultivate this species. This fact, together with this truffle’s limited natural habitat and production from the wild means an extremely limited supply. The Périgord black truffle (Tuber melanosporum), on the other hand, has been cultivated for over a hundred years in Europe. Even so, production remains well below demand, contributing to high prices but certainly lower than the Italian white truffle. Historically, cultivating the Périgord black truffle in Europe has required relatively little science, because it naturally grows in native habitats there. To grow this truffle anywhere outside of its native European habitats requires an enormous amount of scientific know-how, because the environments are so different. It was not until the last two decades that science has enabled this truffle’s cultivation in North America. This is great news for us in the food and restaurant industry!

Michelin star Chef Ken Frank of La Toque in Napa, CA, helping to clean and dig out a fresh Périgord black truffle in Sonoma, CA.

What’s the big deal about European black truffles grown in America?

The quality and value of a truffle are first and foremost driven by its freshness. The European black truffle, for example, has a half-life of only about five days! As soon as it’s harvested from underground, the aroma and flavor start aggressively dissipating into the air. That’s why one can smell the distinct, strong aromas of a fresh European black truffle all the way across the room. Five days after harvest, half of that aroma and flavor are gone. Ten days after harvest, only a quarter of the original aroma and flavor remains. This is true even if the truffles are stored in hermetically sealed containers. The extraordinary value in the European black truffles grown in America is their extreme freshness, compared to the European harvested ones. The time it takes for European harvested truffles to get to American users is not just the flight over the pond. By the time a European harvested truffle goes through the European distribution system, gets on a flight, clears customs, makes it through the North American distribution system and is eventually delivered to the kitchens of American chefs, that truffle is routinely at least 5-7 days old! As a result, it has lost over half of its aroma and flavor. Compare this to an American-grown European black truffle, which can be in chefs’ kitchens either the same day or at most the next day, that’s why the American grown version is a fundamentally different product with substantially higher quality. 

Truffle Orchard
Example of ATC truffle orchards around the country, this one is in North Carolina

Difference in aroma and flavor?

So the question then is, can one tell the difference between an American vs. European harvested Périgord black truffle? Does terroir make a difference in the aroma and flavor of the black truffle? 

Yes, one can absolutely tell the difference between the two versions of the same truffle, but not in the way you might think. Terroir in fact does not affect the aroma and flavor of black truffles. Different crops are affected differently by terroir, some more than others, and others not at all. Think of crops on a continuum. On one extreme of the spectrum, there’s grape. Grapes are heavily impacted by their environment. Grapes grown in California have very different characteristics from the identical varietal grown in Burgundy. Grapes from the same vines in the same vineyard across different years, for that matter, have different characteristics. On the opposite extreme of the spectrum, there’s the banana. Whether they are from Venezuela, Brazil or Ecuador, they all taste like, well, bananas. There is no difference. Black truffles are very much like bananas in this regard, in that the terroir has very little to no impact on their flavor and aroma. Then why can one tell the difference between Périgord black truffles harvested in America vs. in Europe? It all comes down to the freshness. American grown Périgord black truffles have much more intense aromas and flavors simply because they are much fresher. Even though Italian chefs swear they can tell the “superior” Italian produced black truffles from all others, and the French also claim that French produced truffles are the best, in double-blind experiments done with Michelin star chefs who use truffles day in and day out, none could truly tell any difference between truffles produced in different regions, even on different continents. 

Get the freshest black truffles in America

In order to successfully produce Périgord black truffle in America, a significant amount of science is required, because the environment (soil, climate, soil microbiome etc.) is so different here than the truffle’s native habitats in Europe. The American Truffle Company® (ATC) has pioneered and developed the organic and natural scientific cultivation process that has contributed to the successful production of Périgord black truffles in America. It provides its client partner growers around the country with the truffle inoculated trees, the science and the maintenance know-how to successfully produce European black truffles. ATC also distributes all the truffles that its client partner growers produce. As a result, ATC is able to provide the freshest Périgord black truffles on this side of the Atlantic. Most of ATC’s truffle orchards are still in the process of ramping up production. High quality American grown Périgord black truffles are now available in limited quantities directly from the American Truffle Company®. Inquire at [email protected]. 

The post America’s European Black Truffle Revolution appeared first on Total Food Service.

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