A truffle has a thick, smooth to wrinkled outer skin, somewhat rough in texture and a color that varies from black to off-white, depending on the variety. Categorized according to seasons, the four main types of truffles are: White Winter, a.k.a. White Autumn (Scientific Name: Tuber magnatum), Black Winter (Scientific Names: Tuber melanosporum, Tuber brumale vitt, ), White Summer, a.k.a., White Spring (Scientific Names: Tuber magnatum, Tuber borchii), and Black Summer (Scientific Name: Tuber aestivum). The most popular variety is the Black Winter Truffle, which is greyish-black in color with small diamond-shaped projections. This truffle is also known as the French black truffle, the black diamond truffle, the Perigord, or the Umbria truffle, most specifically those from the Umbria region of Italy. Harvested from December to March, the Black Winter Truffle has a deep earthy flavor with a very pungent aroma. Following the Black Truffle in demand is the White Winter Truffle, also called white diamond or Piedmont truffle (most often from the Piedmont region of Italy), which has tan colored, smooth skin with a creamy white flesh, and since demand exceeds supply it commands a higher price than the black truffle. Harvested from October through December, the white truffle has a sweeter smell and provides a mild garlic-like flavor when eaten. The Black Summer Truffle, which has a brownish-black colored knobby outer skin covering a tannish-white inner meat is only mildly aromatic. Abundant in supply, the Black Summer Truffle is harvested from June through November, but is not in great demand. Considered to be the least in demand of all types, the White Summer Truffle is harvested from January to April. The outer skin of this truffle is smooth and tan to white in color with an inner flesh that is off white with the blends of the tan coloring throughout.
If the white truffle is cooked, it loses the strong natural flavor so it is generally best when eaten raw. However, with cooked foods, white truffles can be cut raw into paper-thin slices to be added after the main ingredients are cooked for egg dishes such as omelets or scrambled eggs, pasta, risoto, salads, sauces, or meats such as turkey, chicken, quail that are white in color, or rabbit, and veal meat. Other ingredients that blend well with the flavor of White Truffles are Asiago, Parmesan, and Romano cheeses; mildly bitter tasting greens such as frisee or curly endive; and hard sausage or cured hams such as prosciutto. Fresh white truffles cannot be stored for long periods of time and they do not freeze well, so they are best eaten shortly after being harvested. Black truffles can be served raw, but are best when cooked with meat or added as small bits to sauces and savory dishes, allowing the longer cooking times to blend the flavors together. Slices of raw black truffles are often placed under the skin of uncooked fowl, such as duck, turkey, and upland game to enhance the flavor of the meat during and after it has been cooked. In addition to fowl, the use of the Black Truffles with other foods include: venison, elk, beef, and pork, including bacon and pancetta; hearty wines and brandy, including sauces made with wine or brandy; and cheeses such as chèvre, kasseri, Selles-Sur-Cher, or aged gouda.
Although fresh truffles are available at the end of the fall season and into midwinter, they are generally only found in specialty stores. When selecting, choose firm, evenly shaped truffles providing a fragrant aroma that are blemish free and well-textured. It is best to eat truffles as soon as possible after purchasing because they are very perishable. If they are to be stored, refrigerate for no more than 3 to 5 days and clean the truffle to remove the dirt just prior to preparing. For best storage, wrap each truffle separately in paper toweling and place them in an airtight jar filled with rice. This procedure serves to enhance the flavor of the rice while keeping the truffle scent away from other foods. Replace the paper daily to keep the truffle dry and fresh flavored. Other storage options include coating the truffle with butter, olive oil or a high quality brandy and place in an airtight container in the refrigerator. Coating the truffle in a substance however, will require cleaning the truffle first.
In addition to fresh varieties, truffles are available in a canned, a frozen and a paste form. Truffle oil is also available and is a nice alternative for achieving the truffle flavor without the expense of purchasing fresh truffles. Fresh truffles are best when sliced as shavings added fresh, uncooked as an ingredient to other foods. Regardless of the variety of edible truffle that may be available, truffles and truffle oil can be used universally to flavor egg dishes, pasta dishes, soups, stews, sauces and a variety of meat dishes or as a complement to salads.