The white truffle is a mushroom-like fungus that is highly prized for its unique flavor. Truffles are both rare and expensive, so chefs and home cooks who relish their mysterious earthiness often turn to truffle oil to impart their flavor and aroma to dishes.
Picking a good white truffle oil can be tricky. Small bottles can command a high price, but spending a lot is no guarantee you'll get a high-quality truffle oil. In fact, most truffle oils are synthetically flavored with chemicals such as 2,4-dithiapentane, a lab-synthesized replication of just one of the hundreds of aromatic compounds that give truffles their elusive flavor and aroma. For some, that's good enough reason to avoid truffle oil altogether. But if you already enjoy truffle oil, or are curious and want to try it, here are some buying sources and tips for using it.
Tips for Buying and Using White Truffle Oil
If the label lists " truffle aroma," "essence," "flavor," or something similar, odds are very good that the oil is synthetically flavored. Bits of dried truffle in these bottles are likely for show, not to impart flavor. Be aware that synthetically-flavored oils lack the nuance of real fresh truffles. That's not to say you won't enjoy them, but if you've tasted the real thing, you may find them disappointing.
Some maintain that extra-virgin olive oil is too strongly flavored to make good truffle oil. Some manufacturers use a robust oil to mask the synthetic aromas they employ. But remember that extra-virgin olive oils can have tremendous flavor variations; a mild extra-virgin olive oil can actually work well as a truffle oil base.
Keep truffle oil tightly sealed, and store in a cool, dry, dark place to prevent degradation of flavor.
Use white truffle oil very sparingly. A liberal pour can very easily overwhelm a dish, especially if your oil contains artificial aroma. Save truffle oil for finishing dishes, because the aromatic compounds are too delicate to withstand cooking. For optimal flavor, drizzle truffle oil over dishes that contain fat, such as olive oil, cheese, or cream.
Ultimately, it's your palate and nose that count when evaluating whether a truffle oil is lousy or delicious. It can take a few experimental purchases before you find one you enjoy. In the case of white truffle oil, that can be an expensive prospect. But if you're up for the search, it may prove culinarily rewarding.
Where to Buy White Truffle Oil
These producers are sources for white truffle oil, with prices provided so you can compare them to other brands.
- D'Artagnan White Truffle Oil: The base is first-pressed French olive oil, with Italian white truffle flavor added (but not actual truffle pieces). Many restaurants use this truffle oil. It is made in France. You can find it at specialty markets or buy it online at dartagnan.com. Price: $24.99 for 8.4 ounces.
- da Rosario Organic White Truffle Flavored Olive Oil: There are no artificial flavors in this truffle oil that was developed by Rosario Safina, former president of Urbani USA and author of "Truffles: Ultimate Luxury, Everyday Pleasure." It is made with mild organic extra virgin olive oil, organic Italian white truffles, and natural organic Italian white truffle flavor and is Certified USDA Organic. You can buy it direct from da Rosario, or try The Frenchy Bee. Price: $35 for 8 ounces.
- Oregon White Truffle Oil: This is the first U.S.-produced, all-natural, chemical-free truffle oil. It is made from wild Oregon truffles and blended light olive oil. Jack Czarnecki, proprietor of The Joel Palmer House and author of the James Beard Award-winning "A Cook's Book of Mushrooms" makes and markets this authentic white truffle oil. If you love truffles, you might visit the area during the winter Oregon Truffle Festival. Buy online at oregontruffleoil.com. Price: $29.99 for 5 ounces.
Try white truffle oil drizzled over eggs, popcorn, creamy cheeses, pasta, salads, or mushroom dishes. Use to finish polenta or risotto, or as a dipping oil for warm, crusty bread.