TRUFFLES. The truffle, a kind of fungus, may justly be described as one of the most curious and least understood articles of food. We know that it grows in clusters a few inches under the ground—something like a potato, but without roots or upper parts of any description—but the secret of its production has never yet been fully ascer tained, though it has been eaten and enjoyed for centuries. Some types bring very high prices—up to four dollars or more a pound—yet attempts to grow them commer cially have never proved successful.
The most famous variety is the Perigord Truffle, which takes its name from the former French Province of Perigord, the greater part of which is included in the pres ent Department of Dordogne. Its high reputation is due to its especially delicate aroma and its uniformly good quality and regularity of appearance. It varies in size from that of a walnut to a medium size potato, is round shaped, with a rough warty exterior, and inside is of a blackish grey or black, according to age, marbled with fine white veins. It grows most freely in forests of Chene Nain (a dwarf oak), beech and some other trees; where the soil is chalky or clayey, light in composition and compara tively free from stones, and preferably on sloping ground. For a good crop, warmth and plenty of rain are essential.
Truffles so freely absorb the nutriment of the soil that nothing except the trees which give them shade is able to grow in the vicinity, so one recognizes a Truffiere or Truffle-ground by its bare and generally somewhat cracked surface. As, however, the truffles themselves show no sign above the ground, they are generally located by trained dogs and hogs, held in leash, who find them by the peculiar aromatic odor of the mature specimens, ascending through the loose soil above them. The harvest takes place in winter and lasts for three or four months.
Various kinds of Black Truffles are found in other parts of France, especially in the Dauphine District; Germany, Spain, England, California and other parts of the world, but they are classed as of lesser value.
The White Truffle is a minor German and English variety, which grows half above ground, is of whitish-red tint and generally of the size of a large walnut.
The Italian Truffle, of somewhat different type, is brownish outside and liver colored or yellowish within. It is generally of about the same size as the other kinds, but occasionally attains to much greater proportions, up to masses of from 10 to 12 pounds. It has, however, comparatively little flavor.
The flesh of all varieties is meaty rather than vegetable in character.
The preparation of truffles for the market consists in freeing them from the earth which clings to them, washing them with special brushes, grading them by size and quality and, generally, putting them in cans, boxes, glass jars or bottles, etc., for the "cooking" necessary for their preservation. Long experience and great care are required to preserve truffles without losing or impairing their delicate qualities.
The most highly rated are those which are the largest, roundest, blackest and most highly perfumed, and marketed with the skins removed (Peeled Truffles). The next in grade are those which have been simply brushed (Brushed Truffles), and then the pieces and "Parings." Truffles are used chiefly for garnishing and dressing. The choicest qualities are very expensive, but the Parings, the residue from the preparation of Peeled Truffles, are sold at comparatively low prices and will answer all ordinary requirements.
If only a few truffles are taken from a freshly opened can or jar, the remainder should be covered with sherry or other white wine, and the can itself with greased card or paper so as to avoid contact with the air. This is practising true economy, for the truffles are not so liable to spoil, and the wine can be afterwards used in the prepa ration of sauces. If the opened box is to be kept for a considerable time, the advice of a well-known chef is to cover them with boiling bacon fat, or fat of poultry. As, how ever, none of these methods is absolutely sure to preserve the aroma, etc., it is prefer able to purchase in quantities to suit one's requirements, so that the entire contents of a can or box are consumed shortly after opening. This is generally possible, as truffles are put up in cans or boxes of many sizes, the smallest being very small indeed.