CAPSULE REPORT: The black Périgord truffle is one of the most expensive foods in the world. But with declining yields in France, there’s been a race to grow them elsewhere. We recently tried two brands of truffle popcorn—479° Organic Popcorn, which uses truffle oil and truffle salt as flavoring, and Charlie’s Truffled Popcorn from Sue Rice Truffle Products of North Carolina, which incorporates North Carolina black Périgord truffle shavings with summer truffle and Sicilian truffle salt . Although each was very different from the other, we were delighted with both. If you’re a truffle lover, read more to find out which one you’d prefer; or do your own taste-test at home with both brands. This is Page 1 of a two-page review. Click on the black links below to visit the other page.
A type of subterranean mushroom, truffles have a strong earthy, musky aroma and are prized around the world for their heady culinary powers.
Though they are expensive, a little can go a long way. But at $1,000 a pound or more, even that “little bit” costs a few hundred dollars. For years, people who haven’t been able to afford the real thing have made do with truffle oil, truffle butter and truffle salt—some made with actual bits of real truffles and some made with a synthetic flavor that does a pretty good job of approximating the real thing.
Native to the Périgord region of in the Dordogne département of France, a magical combination of climate, tree variety and soil chemistry creates the alluring black Périgord truffle (Tuber melanosporum). It’s flavor and aroma are matched by none.
Given the very high prices and declining yields in France, agricultural scientists have sought for years to duplicate the Périgord truffle by transplanting its spores in similar soils and climates.* The good news is that, after much trial and error, Tuber melanosporum is now grown from spore in the North Carolina, Tennessee, Tasmania and elsewhere. The bad news is that it doesn’t have the flavor or the aroma of the wild truffles from Périgord but of the less remarkable summer black truffles.
*The truffles grow naturally in France, clinging to roots of trees. Spores from these fabulous fungi are treated scientifically so that they can “take root” (or attach to root) elsewhere.
What You Need To Know About Black “Périgord” Truffles
Wine grapes, cacao beans, olives and other agricultural products get their unique flavor from their terroir (tur-WHA): a very precise combination of microclimate, soil and other factors. You can plant the rootstock from the same Cabernet Sauvignon vines in Bordeaux—elsewhere in France, Australia, California, Chile, South Africa or wherever—and the fruit will taste very different. And the price per pound is very different too: $1,500 for wild Périgord truffles from Périgord; about half that for cultivated Tuber melanosporum truffles from elsewhere.
The same is true with Tuber melanosporum. It tastes different wherever it grows, and nowhere does it taste as majestic as it does in the Périgord area of France.
In fact, many famous French foods are A.O.C.* protected—you can’t sell a cheese called Roquefort or a wine called Bordeaux or a chicken called Poulet de Bresse or red peppers called Espelette, unless the product is grown and produced on the exact acreage covered by the A.O.C., along other criteria established by the French government.
The French never legislated an A.O.C. designation for Périgord truffles because, until the last couple of years, because Périgord truffles could only grow wild in Périgord. Now that they are being cultivated elsewhere, we expect that they will receive A.O.C. protection—and that any cultivated Tuber melanosporum will have to call itself something else. When it happens, remember that you read it here first.