Q. I have a question about truffles. I want to get my sister-in-law a Christmas present but am confused. Do I buy truffles or black truffle oil, or white truffle oil? I am not sure how to use truffles, so any help would be appreciated.
A. We hate to answer a question with a question, but how can we get on your gift list? Seriously, truffles, the rare, flavorful, essentially uncultivable fungus that is hunted in Italy and France with the aid of pigs and dogs, are so expensive and such a rarity in this country, that relatively few people have any experience with them.
The black truffle from France's Perigord region is considered the best. The white truffle, primarily found in Italy's Alba region has a somewhat sharper, more peppery flavor. Because of their expense, truffles are generally shaved and used as a garnish on pasta dishes, salads, mashed potatoes, eggs, etc. Shavings can be layered under the skin of poultry, mixed judiciously in stuffing, or added to makes sauces extra special. A classic use is in a foie gras pâté.
Olive oil infused with truffle flavor is widely available at much lower cost
($5 to $10 per ounce). It, too, is used sparingly to give a burst of flavor to favorite savory dishes.
Now, back to that cost thing: fresh white truffles are currently available (online at Dean & DeLuca) for about $230 per ounce. You can get black or white truffle powder
($15 to $40 per ounce) or cream ($10 to $14 per ounce). Black truffles are harvested only from December to March, so aren't generally available until nearly Christmas. Urbani Truffles & Caviar in New York (1-800-281-2330) sells fresh black and white truffles in season, as well as flash-frozen truffles (which they say retains almost all of the flavor) and would love to hear from you. The pricing
varies with the seasons.