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Decadent truffles have long been associated with luxury – revered by many, but affordable to few. However, the coveted fungi, which can fetch over £2,000 a kilo, are now ubiquitous in the food scene.
Enjoy them in pesto sauces or creamy dips, on pizzas, pastas or even popcorn – truffle-flavoured food is everywhere. Speciality Food finds out why foodies love it, and how can fine food retailers stock and sell it.
A truffle is an edible fungus – specifically the fruiting body of fungi in the genus Tuber, which grow underground or just at the soil’s surface.
The two main types are black and white – the black truffle grows in southern Europe, including Italy, France and Spain, while the white truffle is found mainly in northern Italy in the Piedmont region.
Truffles are expensive because they’re difficult to cultivate and take many years to develop.
Truffles have a rich, savoury, earthy flavour. Mario Prati, a trained chef who imports and sells high-quality truffles from his Tartufaia stall at Borough Market, explained the aroma and taste of white and black truffles. “The black autumn truffle is a sub-species of the white summer truffle, but for me it is a lot more flavoursome. It has many layers of flavour.
“The white summer truffle tastes beautiful, but you have to be very careful what you pair it with, as it can be easily overwhelmed by other ingredients. You need to cook it with a plain vehicle like a risotto or a plain pasta. The black autumn truffle is more intense, which means you can combine it with a much wider variety of ingredients,” Mario said.
“The aroma of truffle is so powerful and distinctive – you can smell it a mile away and it always gets the tastebuds watering!” says Sarah Norris, head of marketing at Godminster. “To some it reminds them of mushroom, earth, hazelnut and vanilla. It’s associated with decadence and divine flavour – if you love it, you really love it.”
Indeed, despite the devoted fans of the truffle flavour, it’s not everyone’s cup of tea. However, Sarah believes that even truffle haters can be converted. “Combine a truffle cheese with fig chutney – trust us,” Sarah says. “There’s something magical about the combination of truffle and fig that transforms both of them into a flavour sensation. It’s food alchemy…you won’t believe it until you’ve tried it!”
Although it seems even the multiples are flush with truffle-flavoured foods, a discerning eye is key when it comes to stocking this product. The mainstreaming of truffle-flavoured products has led to the use of artificial oils or pastes that are much cheaper.
If you’re looking to sell the luxury of truffle, Sarah says it’s important to ensure authenticity. “Speak to your producers and ensure that they’re using real truffles and not pastes which contain quantities of mushrooms or carrots to bulk it out. Read the ingredients label carefully to ensure you’ve got the real deal,” she says.
“We use the finest black summer truffles from Truffle Hunter, a company that is renowned for being experts in truffle hunting (it’s all in the name!),” she continues. “They started hunting truffles in the Sibillini Mountains and they still work with expert truffle hunters to this day.”
Truffle is an indulgent flavour, and something most customers won’t want to have every day, or in every type of product. “Truffle is such a rich and unique flavour that is super aromatic – it has almost a foie gras type of umami taste – something very powerful but also subtle, which lends itself to a more moreish rather than addictive flavour,” says Hannah McCollum, founder of dip brand ChicP.
“Our senses are almost heightened when we smell that amazing flavour; it’s a bit like perfume, really,” she continues, “it’s a strong smell that draws and attracts you in but you’re not quite sure why, but you keep going back for more.”
Hannah says truffle has been known to pair well with creamy dishes like pasta, risotto, cheese and honey, which is how she knew it would work well in a hummus, having recently launched a Truffle Hummus in collaboration with the Truffle Hunters. “Hummus is an amazing product on its own with a fantastic texture, but the flavour isn’t super strong, which makes it the perfect vehicle for adding all these incredible flavours and creating something totally different and delicious,” she says.
Jon Ballantyne at Truffle Hunter adds that matching his signature white truffle oil with hummus “proved the perfect formula for an indulgent dip!”
Tastings are an important way to break down customers’ assumptions with a flavour as distinctive as truffle.
“Ask your supplier if they will provide you with stock to do tastings with your customers and – just as importantly – your staff,” Sarah says. “Truffle is a complex flavour and tastings will help overcome any initial barriers, especially for those who are sceptical or who have had poor quality truffle products in the past.”
If you stock more than one truffle-flavoured product, why not group a few items together to really impress your truffle lovers?
Claire Blampied, MD of Sacla UK, says retailers should, “Display all their truffle products together, ideally with some sort of point of sale or display cabinet that educates people about truffle – provenance, different types of truffle, how to use the truffle products that they are selling.”
If done well, you might find that by explaining the provenance behind a product you can convice the truffle sceptics among your customers too.
If your customers are looking to cook with truffle or truffle oil, swot up to give them some fantastic suggestions, like a potato gnocchi with truffle butter and wild mushrooms or creamy mushroom and truffle oil tagliatelle.
For those buying fresh truffle, storage tips can also make a big difference between a satisfied customer and a disappointed one.
“With truffles, eating them within the first week after they’re out of the ground is the best,” Mario told Speciality Food.He said the best way to keep them is in a jar or tub wrapped in tissue paper in the fridge. Check in on them every so often and change the tissue when it’s damp, and they can last for up to 10 days. “My regulars know our schedule and try to come on the day they arrive, so they get the first pick of the freshest truffles!”