The Italian Black Winter truffle has a rough, semi-spherical fruiting body that is covered with small, diamond-like projections. The surface of the truffle is jet black when fully mature. Its flesh ranges from pale grey to dark, chocolate brown when mature. The flesh is marbled with broad white veins, distinguishing them from other black truffle varieties. It is the aroma which is the most alluring quality of the Italian Black Winter truffle, a savory and pungent lingering perfume suggestive of its flavor. The flavor is distinct, with subtle undertones of garlic, shallots, hazelnuts and even chocolate.
Italian Black Winter truffles are available in winter through early spring.
The Italian Black Winter truffle, Tuber melanosporum, AKA Tarufo Nero Pregiato, along with all truffles, is a part of a taxonomic group, classified as Ascomycetes, thus they are not actually mushrooms. In 1981, German researchers reported that they had isolated the source of the truffle’s enticing allure: androstenol, a hormone released by truffles to lure animals in to detect it and eat it. Truffles do not produce air-born spores; thus, to maintain reproduction, they rely on animals to spread their spores. Italian Black Winter truffles are sold for fresh eating and inferior quality truffles are processed for canning.
Italian Black Winter truffles have a strong depth of flavor, allowing them to be cooked briefly or low and slow. They can be shaved fresh as a finishing element or infused into sauces to add depth. The volatile compounds that release truffles’ distinct aroma are compromised when overcooked, but fats can capture and encapsulate those aromas. Thus, it is often that they are paired with rich foods such as meat, cheese and eggs. Italian Black Winter truffles pair well with lobster, caviar, fois gras, pasta, cream sauces, garlic, shallots, light-bodied vinegars, mascarpone, aged hard cheeses, citrus and herbs such as tarragon, basil and arugula. Fresh truffles can be folded into butter to create a compound, which can be refrigerated for up to three months. Truffles will keep, dry and tightly wrapped or stored in rice, for one to two weeks.
The highest quality Italian Black Winter truffles are carefully and discreetly harvested by solo hunters and their dogs. Italian Black Winter truffles grow deep beneath the soils’ surface, up to as deep as a half a metre. They are found growing in open woodlands near oak, hornbeam and hazelnut trees in rich red soils. Mild summers, winter rainfall, the vitality of the host plant, sunlight and soil aeration are all key determinants in the production of truffles.