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The black truffle

The black truffle (tuber melanosporum), with its unmistakable black or dark brown color, is not unlike a gem (Brillat-Savarin even referred to them as “black diamonds”) and is collected in forests and available in marketplaces when winter arrives. Held in high esteem since ancient times, black truffles generally grow underground at a depth of 30 centimeters, and their collection (formerly with pigs, now with dogs) and sale have always been shrouded in mystery, adding to their appeal. Legend has it that Egyptians liked to eat them coated in goose fat and cooked en papillote.

Later, the Greeks and Romans used them for therapeutic purposes and even considered them aphrodisiacs. That theory has remained over the years, and in the 19th century famed French writer Alexandre Dumas went to far as to say that "truffles make women more tender and men more lovable". The British poet Lord Byron kept a truffle on his desk when writing.

The power of aroma

The truffle, the taste of which is 90% aroma, is an edible fungus eaten grated or sprinkled over any food and can even be used to infuse certain ingredients, such as eggs, bestowing on them their unique flavor. Consequently, it's not used as an ingredient but, rather, as the finishing touch before a dish is served. Its aromatic power is so great that it completely transforms the dining experience.

They are relatively affordable (they are less expensive than the exorbitant Italian white truffle) and there are more than 60 varieties, around half of which come from Europe and some of which are extremely prestigious, such as the Périgord, the Alsace and the white truffle from Piamonte. There are also excellent varieties in Spain, almost all of which come from the northeast, from an extensive area that extends from Alava down to Guadalajara in the west and across to the northern tip of Valencia region, spanning all the provinces in between, such as Soria, Teruel, Huesca and Catalonia. Texture and flavor aside, the truffle's intense aroma is its most distinguishing characteristic.

They must always be eaten fresh and raw or slightly cooked (it's important not to overcook them), cut into slices and grated to a fine dust, and they can be used in myriad ways: in ragout, sautéed with rice and risotto, etc.Broadly speaking, they pair very well with meat, game, eggs, poultry, salad, potatoes, pasta and pâté. Black truffles go hand-in-hand with foie, and are the crème de la crème for the most discerning palates.

With bread, extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt

According to Celebrating the Millennium with Adriá and Arzak, a book by Ferran Adrià and Juan Mari Arzak, the simplest way to eat black truffles is with bread, extra virgin olive oil and a pinch of salt. Other leading European chefs have brilliantly paid homage to the tartufo: Frenchman Paul Bocuse served his black truffle soup Élysée under a puff pastry to former French President Valéry Giscard d'Estaing, and Italian chef Gualtiero Marchesi prepared a memorable version in the form of a soufflé—two modern-day works of art with truffle.

Dishes featuring truffles are always unique and even surprising and, in view of their steep price tag (they can sell for more than 1,000 euros per kilo, due to their scarcity and the unpredictability of the harvest), they should be accompanied by not only a top-notch wine, but a wine of the absolute highest order.

If you have truffles at home, it's important to eat them without delay, as they lose their freshness and aroma rather quickly. However, if you decide to wait, they can be preserved or macerated. It's worth noting that a good truffle is noticeable even before it reaches the table, due to its overwhelming aroma. There are several places to enjoy them, mainly in truffle-growing areas and also in provincial capitals.

BALUARTE is an excellent option in Soria, where Oscar García offers a new take on Paul Bocuse's famous soup. In Huesca, LA TABERNA DE LILLAS PASTIA serves a creamy tuber melanosporum rice, prepared by Carmelo Bosque. In the town of Morella, in Castellón, DALUAN chef Avelino Ramón serves truffle carpaccio, and in Madrid, María Luisa Banzo, of LA COCINA DE MARÍA LUISA and an expert mycologist, prepares a very popular truffle with scrambled eggs.

ADDRESSES

BALUARTE. Caballeros 14. Tel.: 975 213 658. Soria

LILLAS PASTIA. Pza. de Navarra, 4. Tel.: 974 211 691. Huesca

DALUAN. Callejón Cárcel, 4. Tel.: 964 060 071 Morella, Castellón.

LA COCINA DE MARIA LUISA. Jorge Juan, 42. Tel.: 917 810 180. Madrid

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11/12/2014