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Taste the difference: black and white truffles

January 13, 2013

Rostang at Atlantis The Palm, Jumeirah, DubaiThere’s no love lost between the English and the French…but this rivalry doesn’t seem to extend to food. Perhaps English food is beneath the gaze of the Gallic nation; and the British attitude to food tends to be as an adjunct to our lives rather than an all-encompassing central focus.

However antipathy between the French and the Italians comes to head when food is on the agenda. Ask a countryman of either nation about a shared ingredient or classic dish of the other and the reaction will usually be something along the line of ‘what do they know’ accompanied by the throwing up of hands or the shrugging of shoulders. With many prized ingredients and dishes in common (e.g. minestrone topped with pesto, soup a la pistou) and a passion for tradition and authenticity perhaps the similarities are just too close for comfort.

Truffles are a prime example. The Italians head out into the forests during October and November with dogs to seek out  the white truffle (Tuber magnatum) and truffle fairs are held where prices for this knobbly fungi are legendary. The French use pigs to root up black truffles (Tuber melanosporum) the best specimens are reputedly from the Perigord (not to be confused with the summer or burgundy truffle – Tuber aestivum/uncinatum). Do the English have truffles? Yes, they grow on our Isles but only the most dedicated forager ever samples their delights.

Black truffles at Rostang, white truffles at Ronda Locatelli

Chef Cyril talks about black truffles from the Perigord at Rostang; white truffles at Ronda Locatelli

I’ll admit to a strong bias, having sampled the new season truffle menu many times at Ronda Locatelli at Atlantis, I had been totally seduced by the simple dishes (from risotto to pasta) which showcase the musky attractions of the white truffle.  I was interested to step across the corridor into Rostang for a chance to try new season French black truffles flown in from the Perigord.

Michel Rostang gained fame and his first Michelin partly due to his creation of the black truffle sandwich. This was the first thing we tried at a dinner held to showcase a special new season truffle menu. Chef Cyril Jeannot brought round the sandwich wrapped in cling film in its raw state. For the flavour of the filling to permeate the butter and bread, it is kept in the fridge for three days. It amused me to see us all sniffing a sandwich, like a bizarre dining ritual.

A black truffle was also passed around. At first I was surprised at how weak the scent was compared to fresh white truffles. But after holding for a few moments I suddenly smelled a strong but elusive porcine aroma giving way to a much more complex layer of scents. It was like the forest floor with hints of green herbs, moss and earth.

Simple carbohydrates and fats are the perfect foil for truffle flavours; would anything on this menu live up to Giorgio Locatelli’s truffle risotto or raviolo uovo with a shaving of truffle? The butter from the sandwich had melted into the toasted bread, it was like elements of a luxurious fried breakfast. I tried to be restrained but finished the lot.

Sandwich a la truffe fraiche par Michel Rostang and a foie gras and leek terrine with truffle

Sandwich a la truffe fraiche par Michel Rostang and a foie gras and leek terrine with truffle

Next was la terrine de foie gras, poireaux truffes; You’d expect the foie gras to be the star wouldn’t you, but it was the soft, buttery leeks that won the day. A puree of artichoke was lovely although it revealed why French cuisine is often not vegetarian-friendly – there was foie gras in the purée! They were lovely flavours but quite rich and salty after the other  things we’d tasted. Finally we had a choice of chicken roasted with black truffles under the skin or sea bass. Although the chicken choosers raved about the sauce (which was really good) I was delighted with my fish dish as it was the closest to that ambrosial carbo-truffle combination that takes you away from the table and off into heavenly clouds of sensory enjoyment. The beautifully cooked sea bass fillet was accompanied by a little mound of creamy, buttery mashed potato flecked with black truffle.

Dessert and truffles are a bit contrived to me, I’d rather have a savoury dish however glorious Locatelli’s truffle zabaglioni is. A simple baked apple with almonds and black truffle was an unexpected treat. The apple, an old, traditional, French variety called Reinette Clochard  (I refuse to use the word heirloom here), quite similar to a Russet in taste and texture, a drop of creme fraiche or cream would have been my only addition.

So I’ll get off the fence now. In the black versus white truffle head to head which was my favourite? Whether it’s the Italian seduction technique or the indefinable muskiness of the taste and scent of the white truffle, the tartufo bianco  remains in pole position for me.

Sea bass and gorgeous mashed potatoes with truffle. The apples before they were baked.

Sea bass and gorgeous mashed potatoes with truffle. The apples before they were baked.

A fresh, white truffle has a compelling aroma that makes you want to inhale deeply, somewhere between a chamois leather and the rind of a ripe brie but with the delicacy of a spring flower. The flavours give a nod to the mushroom but in umami-ness, earthy and nuttiness. The appeal is so irresistible that a friend of mine was compelled to eat dirt when in Piedmont (completely understandable).  However the black truffle had different qualities which make it a very special gastronomic experience. With the Italian season over, I’m quite happy to move over the border.

You can taste this menu yourself as part of Truffes Janvier 2013 at Rostang from  Thursday 17th – Sunday 20th January, 2013.  On Friday 18th January, 2013 Celebrity chef Michel Rostang himself will host a special dinner where  every dish features the tasty truffle. Diners will be offered a rare chance to mingle with the culinary star. More info here

So to borrow a line from Michael Jackson, ‘It don’t matter if you’re black or white”…unless you’re a truffle.

What’s your experience of truffles? Love them, hate them or think they are over-rated? Have you tried (or foraged for) an English truffle? Or in other parts of the world? Or never tried them (truffle oil which generally contains no truffle at all does not count!)?

Rostang Atlantis The Palm Jumeirah, Dubai

  1. January 13, 2013 2:10 pm

    I love the flavor of truffles, but I have never tasted the white ones and never had the opportunity to savour a fresh truffle.



    • January 13, 2013 9:00 pm

      They are such luxurious items – I know I am extremely lucky to have been able to sample both types, and with such freshness.

  2. January 13, 2013 2:57 pm

    I prefer white truffles but that is because that is mainly what we get here in Scotland. Usually shaved on rather than in a dish. I know purists won’t approve but one of my favourite cheap snack thrills is drizzling white truffle honey (you can get this in good ol’ M&S of all places, in the international section) over white Zaramama popcorn and then sprinkling with white truffle salt (Steenbergs). Sadly I will probably never have your classier experiences of truffles but I am quite happy with my post TV snack! BTW, when researching for my latest post (socca de Nice) I did see the Italian-French rivalry concerning socca versus farinata. It must happen with loads of dishes as they share so many ingredients.

    • January 13, 2013 9:04 pm

      Shaving them on top is the best way of preserving the flavour. I think your popcorn idea is luxurious. Truffle oil is the offending article – it is, in most cases, just an artificial truffle flavour…a pale comparison to the real deal. The salt sounds really interesting though. I’m going to research the socca versus farinata now – thanks for flagging this one up.

  3. January 13, 2013 2:58 pm

    Oops, that should’ve been ‘posh not ‘post’ Doh!

    • January 13, 2013 9:01 pm

      I usually correct any spelling mistakes before posting people’s comments. I know that I’ve made them myself in a hurry!

  4. Olivia Spadavecchia permalink
    January 13, 2013 3:04 pm

    Had a little giggle over the Michael Jackson quote!That truffle sandwich was simple perfection, proof that three ingredients can make a masterpiece. As much as I enjoyed it, white truffles are my first love, must be the Italian roots…
    Great to have met you, Sally.

    • January 13, 2013 9:05 pm

      Glad someone else appreciates my rather self-indulgent sense of humour – it was going to be the headline! Great to meet you too Olivia – it was a really special evening. Very relaxed and with some outstanding dishes.

  5. therealgeordiearmani permalink
    January 13, 2013 3:24 pm

    agree with Olivia 🙂

    • January 13, 2013 9:07 pm

      Oh dear the French won’t be pleased

  6. January 13, 2013 7:01 pm

    Loved this post and I a partial to the white.

    Sorry I took so long to wish you the best for 2013. Took some time off and will be posting in a week or so.

    • January 13, 2013 9:07 pm

      Happy 2013 – appreciate you dropping by…..and we all need a break sometime. I hope you enjoyed yours.

  7. January 13, 2013 8:30 pm

    I popped over to have a look because last year I was lucky enough to find myself in Tuscany right in the middle of the truffle season. So I went to San Miniato…and was quite amazed to find how much more there was to truffles. I learnt that Italians ‘preserve’ their white truffles (though in theory you can’t) by freezing slices between layers of butter! And, that many of the truffles you find in Italy are smuggled across the border from Croatia…

    And of course I got to taste a lot of truffles;) delicious!

    • January 13, 2013 9:09 pm

      I would love to go to a truffle fair – how lucky. Chinese truffles are often slipped into a batch or passed off as black truffles. Apparently they taste like turnips!

  8. January 14, 2013 11:58 am

    Oh dear, my poor deprived palette has yet to taste a truffle – black or white. Quite honestly I don’t even know of anywhere where we live who have them on a menu – seems we are a little country bumpkinish. 😉
    🙂 Mandy xo

  9. January 14, 2013 2:02 pm

    I’ve rarely ever sampled a truffle…they shaved it over pasta once at an Italian resto in DIFC, but the flavour was somewhat lost on me. When it comes to the oils (which I’m sure is a no-no in the celeb chef world), I infinitely prefer white truffle oil. We had it once at a pizza class in NYC, drizzled over a taleggio cheese pizza, with coarse black pepper…divine.

    Your ability to dissect aromas, and translate them into precise descriptions, is stunning. Beautifully worded post.

  10. January 15, 2013 12:40 am

    I’ve never tried a white truffle, but I’ll certainly look out for one now! Thanks for the great post, Sally! xx

  11. andreamynard permalink
    January 15, 2013 1:24 am

    What wonderfully decadent feasting. I’ve fancied planting one of those native British trees that are impregnated with truffle spores but not sure if we would ever harvest/find any. Interested if you have any idea or have heard of anybody in the Cotswolds with truffle trees? But maybe I would end up snuffling around a hazel tree like a truffling pig!

  12. glamorous glutton permalink
    January 15, 2013 1:49 am

    I love truffles although I’m not sure I’ve ever had white truffles. I remember a wonderful plate of pasta with a light creamy sauce and that fabulous aroma and flavour of shaved truffle. The last time I had truffle was this summer at The Hand And Flowers. A half truffle wrapped in shiny crisp pastry served in the centre of a large plate with a small jug of the most wonderful jus. A celebration of truffles if ever there was one. GG

    • January 15, 2013 3:57 pm

      How would you eat such a large amount of truffle as the one in pastry? Sounds intriguing. A small shaving of a lovely fresh white truffle is divine. Thanks for the comment GG

  13. January 16, 2013 7:34 pm

    Mmm, truffles. I was thirty before I tried my first truffle – and I was totally 100% smitten from the word go. I love the, earthy, mushroomy and faintly, umm, human scent but I love the flavour even more. I don’t think I have actually had white truffles, but I did for the first time this summer have black summer truffles in France – milder than the Perigord black truffles but also cheaper, so you can pile on more (and hubby actually preferred them as he usually finds the flavour overwhelming). I have just put that truffle sandwich on my bucket list… *swoon*!

    • January 17, 2013 6:25 am

      The truffle sandwich can be bought as a takeaway too – for 60 Euros!

  14. January 16, 2013 9:21 pm

    I love the flavour of the black truffle the most. This was a lovely read, a lovely & tasty post too!

    • January 17, 2013 6:24 am

      Ah – a vote for the black truffle – excellent. Both are wonderful in different ways.

  15. July 17, 2013 11:15 am

    It is possible to find truffle oil that *does* contain real truffles – an option for those of us with limited funds! Available in both black and white flavours from TruffleHunter:

  16. Chef Dale permalink
    November 28, 2013 6:40 pm

    Black truffle butter under the skin of a roasting turkey, hot damn

    • November 29, 2013 3:42 pm

      Sounds pretty good to me 🙂


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