Autumn is truffle season. Not the chocolate variety — which are always in season — but the rare fungus, that grows underground within the living roots of chestnut, oak and beech trees.
Until about 100 years ago, natural historians did not even understand what truffles were, nor how they were produced, which gives them mystique. Even today, no one has yet succeeded in cultivating truffles commercially, so they remain a rare and expensive delicacy.
They are so prized that truffles are often sold for small fortunes. The largest found to date weighed more than 1.5 kilos and sold for approximately £165,000.
Fresh truffles can be eaten in a number of ways: white truffles are usually served raw, shaved thinly over fresh pasta, omelettes, risottos, stews and salads or heated gently in olive oil or butter to release the perfume. Both black and white truffles work well with all types of white meat. However, their rareness and price usually limits them to menus in upmarket restaurants.
The bad news is that, like the rest of the fungus and mushroom family, truffles are prone to insect infestation and so generally off-limits to the observant. “Truffles are a type of fungal growth, and in their natural state, are perfectly kosher. However, it is not unusual for them to be infested with worms and so they should be carefully checked before use,” explains Rabbi Jeremy Conway of the Kashrut Division of the London Beth Din (KLBD).
Rosalind Coten, senior food technologist at the KLBD, said: “We don’t recommend them because they are frequently infested and are difficult to check for insects. Our caterers are banned from using them.”
If all or any part of a truffle is wormy, it must be discarded; so the only way a truffle can be used is if it is completely perfect.
But Israeli truffle fanatic Bathsheva Sergeant has introduced a new kosher truffle product line, which makes it possible for everyone to enjoy the flavour. Sergeant, who is based in Israel, has a passion for the gourmet treat: “I had long been curious about truffles and how they grow underground,” she explains.
“My friends were talking about truffles one night and I had never heard of them. A couple of weeks later I happened to see a documentary on television about truffle hunting in France. As soon as I turned off the TV, I googled “truffles” and was intrigued, I found myself reading about them everyday for weeks.”
They became a passion and she was appointed the Israeli distributor of truffle products to restaurants and high-end delicatessens for a company called Truffle Hunter.
“You cannot buy kosher fresh truffles in Israel, so restaurants either import small quantities of their own, or use products containing cooked truffles,” she explains.
“People would regularly ask me for kosher products.” So she worked with Truffle Hunter on a dedicated line of kosher truffle products, which she branded Truffle Corner.
The range includes black truffle oil, white truffle oil, truffle honey and black truffle salt as well as jars of minced cooked truffles and truffle carpaccio.
Like all truffle oils, hers are made with truffle flavouring. The flavouring has been developed for her by Truffle Hunter, who developed them with top chefs from naturally occurring ingredients. The oils have been tested by and are used by Michelin-starred chefs.
The fresh truffles in her products are fully examined by KLBD staff and are then cooked and prepared for her by Truffle Hunter before being packaged and sold under her Truffle Corner brand. A range of truffles are used, depending on the season.
“There are two main varieties, both of which have a summer and a winter season so we are able to source them throughout the year,” she explains. “Winter truffles are stronger and more expensive. The highly sought after black winter truffles grow mostly in the Perigord region of France and in northern Italy, and the more common white variety can be found in Eastern and Northern Europe.”
The elements can also impinge on availability and price as a too hot summer or overly cold winter can adversely affect the crop.
Truffle Corner’s products are used in kosher restaurants and can be found online or in certain kosher supermarkets, and open up this delicacy to a wider market who can now get a flavour of this luxury.