|Truffles are very much a luxury item, so when you do indulge in this special treat it is important to get the most for your money. There are a number of tricks and techniques experienced chefs and culinary experts use to select the finest fresh truffles for their homes and restaurants, and ordinary consumers can use these same guidelines to choose the best white truffles, black truffles and other wonderful varieties of fresh truffles.
One of the most important thing to keep in mind is that the winter season is high time for truffles. While fresh truffles can be a delicious treat at other times of the year, truffles harvested during the winter months will be at the peak of flavor. The winter harvest season for fresh truffles generally begins in October and runs through March, although the true peak of the fresh truffle season takes place in December and January.
When chefs and culinary aficionados categorize truffles they do so on the basis of both season and color. So you may see white truffles categorized as both summer and winter truffles. Of course the white truffles that were picked at the height of the winter harvest would be more sought after – and more expensive – than white truffles picked during the summer season.
In addition to season and color, truffles will often be categorized according to their country of origin. So you may see Italian truffles and French truffles sold side by side. The country of origin generally does not make a difference in terms of flavor quality, and it is used as more of a marketing tactic than anything.
Grades of Fresh Truffles
Truffle shoppers will find a number of grades to guide them to the most delectable morsels in the store. Each selection of white truffles and black truffles will be categorized based on the season when it was picked, but those truffles may also be graded according to a strict scale used to determine quality and flavor characteristics. The grades used to rank white truffles, black truffles and fresh truffles are as follows:
This is the highest possible grade for truffles, and this grade is only given to the largest and the best truffles in the harvest. As a consequence of its rarity and its value, fresh truffles carrying the super extra designation tend to be very expensive.
These truffles are smaller than the super extra, but they are still relatively rare and relatively expensive. Only about 10% of the average truffle harvest will qualify for the extra grade designation.
The truffles that do not qualify for either the super extra or extra grade designation will be sold as first choice. The white truffles and black truffles sold under the first choice grade are still very tasty, but they will be a bit smaller than the better grades. Of course they will also be more affordable, making them an excellent choice for chefs who are just getting started cooking with truffles.
So if you have always wanted to enjoy the sensual aroma and wonderful taste of fresh truffles, why not take what you have learned and head down to your local gourmet food market? Your taste buds will be glad you did.