Saturday, November 10, 2018

Truffe de Bourgogne – The Burgundy Truffle. The Tuber Uncinatum, the Burgundy Truffle in French Cuisine.

Behind the French Menu
Bryan G. Newman
The Burgundy truffle, the tuber uncinatum
In France, there are at least fifteen different types of truffles, but only five or six are good enough to be part of your menu.  Unlike mushrooms truffles do not pop up after a rainfall, they must be searched for, and cultivating the most expensive truffles shows little progress after 150 years of trying.  Nevertheless, there are rumors of success in Spain and elsewhere, but without any noticeable effect on market prices, there is little evidence of success.
The Burgundy truffle takes its name from the old region of Burgundy (Bourgogne), the area so famous for wines.  The region's wines include the most expensive wine in the world, the Romanée-Conti and on to Nouveau Beaujolais and all points in between.  In this region the Burgundy truffle made its claim to fame; only later was it found elsewhere and given other names.
Truffles have a unique ability to flavor and scent food.  The Burgundy truffle, grated onto fried or poached eggs or lightly flavored foods such as boiled vegetables creates an aroma and taste that makes you want to eat.  If you try and smell the Burgundy truffle on its own, in a market or in a restaurant before it is grated, then you can sense, not just smell, the slightly sweet, mushroomy, and hazelnut scent and taste.  However, on food the aroma changes as it blends with those of the foods making the mouth water and the food tastier.

This restaurant will be offering the real thing.
The Burgundy Truffle in other parts of France:
The Burgundy truffle has many different names, mostly linked to other places in France where they have also been found. Those names include:

Le Diamant Noir Bourguignon; Truffe Grise de Bourgogne; Truffe de Lorraine; Truffe de Champagne; Truffe de Haute-Marne; and in Latin the Tuber Uncinatum.  The Latin name is the only name that all the would-be owners can agree on.

My introduction to truffles.
I was introduced to truffles by a Frenchman who had many years of experience buying for his home, friends, and family; he took me to a truffle market to explain the subtler points.  In the market, most of those offering the truffles have only very limited offerings, mostly two or three small truffles they had not succeeded in selling to restaurants or wholesale buyers the previous day.  A few professionals do come to make last-minute acquisitions, though most of those come very early.  The rest are like my guide, amateurs making purchases to take home or tourists.  Sniffing the truffles required quite a few tries for me just to begin to feel the differences and as my guide explained truffles are at their best when just taken out of the earth.  Three to five days later truffles start to lose their smell and flavoring capabilities. 
 I didn’t acquire the sniffing experience needed to buy my own truffles to bring home in the two hours we were there, but those truffles with a clear scent made me very aware that some had very little aroma.  Those scentless truffles would be over five days old and might look nice, but they would provide little taste.  Unfortunately, these truffles may be for bottling and restaurants may offer them to those who believe size indicates quality.  Like the king's new clothes many may be hoodwinked into thinking they have a taste.  Artificial flavors may be added to bottled or canned truffles and who will be able to tell?  With truffles, it is best to try them in restaurants with a reputation to be preserved and from online suppliers with good ratings. Truffles are scarce and in demand; that makes them expensive with even the most common truffles having tripled in price in the last five or six years.

Business is clearly not too good in this truffle market.
The Burgundy truffle on French menus under some of its many names:

Brisures de Truffe de Bourgogne - Small pieces, slices, flakes or chips of the Burgundy truffle.

Brouillade d'Œufs aux Truffes de Bourgogne -  Brouillade is the Provencal version of scrambled eggs, here it is served with scrapings from the Burgundy truffle.  In a Brouillade the eggs whites are beaten separately and only then mixed with the yolks; that provides a light and delicate form of scrambled eggs.  I ordered this dish with the Burgundy truffle and then the delicately scrambled eggs arrived with a few back dots in them.  There was no taste or texture of truffles or anything else; they black dots were almost small enough to have come from ground black pepper.  Before ordering, ask if the truffle is added after serving.  If added in the kitchen in a minute quantity or even worse cooked, there will be no taste. If truffle is served with eggs it must be added when the eggs are served; the amount of truffle added may be a few scrapings, but that should be enough if the scrapings are visible.
Chartreuse de Sandre aux Truffes de Champagne au Bouzy BlancZander, the fish, also called pike-perch, prepared with cabbage and served with the truffles found in the Champagne region and flavored with a Bouzy Blanc still white  AOC wine. (Truffes de Champagne – Truffles from the Champagne region mostly indicate truffles from the forests not too far from the famous Champagne vineyards in the departments of Marne and Haute-Marne, though champagne is also made from grapes grown in the departments of Aisne, Ardennes, Aube, Meuse, Seine-et-Marne, and Yonne.  The Bouzy Blanc wine comes from around the village of Bouzy in the department of Marne.  Bouzy is well known as the home of Champagne grapes that make a highly rated champagne by the same name. Not so well known are the non-sparkling white and light red Coteaux Champenois AOC  Bouzy wines.  These are some of the still wines made in the Champagne region, and they were there long before the bubbly.  
The color chartreuse gave its name to this dish of cabbage with zander, as well as the liqueur called Chartreuse.  Chartreuse, the liqueur took, rather than gave its name to the green color chartreuse and was originally created and produced by the Cartusien monks in the Abbey of Grande Chartreuse in the Rhône Alps.

(While researching the Abbey of Grande Chartreuse  I came across a breed of cats, the Chartreux cats; these cats are loved for their copper eyes, silence, and gray-blue fur.  These are one of the quietest and most friendly breeds.  The cats were apparently unique to the Middle East, and during the crusades, a monk from this monastery brought back some of these beautiful cats.  Today the descendants of those cats are considered a French breed. Further investigation revealed that my friend and fellow foodie's cat is a pure-bred Chartreux. The cat's name is Canaille and his silent but haughty picture is shown below).
Canaille, the Chartreux cat.
Photograph courtesy of Michel Masse.
The French word canaille means rascal in English 
and is also a pun on the English words "Can I".
Michel also updated me on the background of the still white Bouzy wines.
The Bouzy Blanc wine is a white 100% Chardonnay, Coteaux Champenois AOC.

Dos de Sandre aux Truffes de Lorraine – A thick cut from the back of a Zander, the fish, served with the truffles from the Lorraine. The name Truffes de Lorraine was given to the tuber uncinatum, the Burgundy truffle when they were found in the department of Meuse. Then Meuse was part of the old the region of Lorraine, and consequently, the truffle was labeled the Truffe de Lorraine.  (Until 1-1-2016 Lorraine was a separate region that included the department of Meuse; now Lorraine is joined with the old regions of Champagne-Ardennes and the Alsace in the new super-region of the Grande Est).
A single truffle
Filet de Bœuf Black Angus, Râpé de Truffe d' Automne A fillet steak, a filet mignon, a cut from the tenderloin of Black Angus beef served with gratings or shavings from the  Autumn truffle.  The Burgundy truffle may be harvested beginning in September and on through January.  Hence the name the Autumn truffle.

Fleur de Bar de Ligne à la Poire et aux Truffes de Haute Marne -  A  filet of wild European sea bass (served in a floral design)  prepared with pears and served with the truffles of Haute Marne.  (This is the Burgundy truffle when found in the department of Haute Marne, one of the first places to grow the grapes that produce Champagne).
This is how fried eggs with the Burgundy truffle should look.
To read about the light side of ordering fried eggs in France click here.

St Jacques Contisées a la Truffe de Bourgogne – Meat from the King scallop with slices inset and stuffed with shavings from the Burgundy truffle.
The Burgundy truffle’s color.
Despite having names that include the Diamant Noir de Bourguignon, the black diamond of Burgundy and the Truffe Grise de Bourgogne, the grey truffle of Burgundy the truffle is neither black nor grey.  When ripe the truffle is a dark chocolate color with little pyramid type projections and inside it has a marbled, almost white veined, coffee-colored flesh.

The forests that shelter the Burgundy truffle

France is blessed with forests of chestnut and oak, forests where truffles can grow amongst their roots.  The oak trees provide the staves for the barrels in which France's wine, Cognac, Armagnac, and Calvados are aged while the Chestnut trees provide food.  Once upon a time,  chestnuts provided the only flour that peasants saw in the winter while chestnut clippings and peelings were food for the animals.

The are many products on the market that contain truffles, and French law requires any product that includes truffles to contain at least 3% truffles.  Despite that requirement, the minimum drops to 1% for any product marked …à la truffe; a phrase that means with a hint of truffles.  Three percent truffles of the best Périgord or Burgundy truffles would definitely add flavor, but one percent of any truffle especially the most lightly flavored will just be stretching the buyers’ hopes.  The same law requires the type of truffle to be shown, and that is important since the flavoring of the different truffles various enormously.  Adding even five percent of the lightest flavored truffles will only produce a very light taste.
Finding truffles with a dog.
Caveat Emptor
Many truffle oils and similar products may have a few pieces of dried truffle floating around in them, but they will have added no flavor.  If a bottle, jar or can notes truffle flavor or essence on the label, in addition to the truffle, these are artificial flavors, and you should pay for them accordingly.

Real truffle oil is olive oil flavored with truffles, and in the best of all worlds, the difference between the price of good olive oil and the same sold as truffle-flavored olive oil should be negligible.  One good burgundy truffle can flavor tens of liters of oil.
This link is permeated with my idea of this truffle's taste, and others may have different views. The diner will hopefully enjoy the effect of the truffle on the dish served; when added to foods there should be some immediate effect.

Every type of truffle on French menus comes with a variety of local names and so for the Burgundy truffle, the tuber uncinatum I included the pleasant confusion of names used in France.  Luckily all the chefs know the Latin names and some put them on the menu or will tell the diner if asked
Where to find truffle fairs and markets.
There are truffle fairs and markets all over France, and there are 1,600 government tourist information offices all over France.  To that add the many town and travel sites that offer a plethora of information as well.  You can search French websites with Google or Bing translate apps and do your own research when looking for truffle fairs and fetes.  Writing ahead to the French Government Tourist Information office should also bring a reply.
Confréries are brother and sisterhoods that promote and celebrate their favorite food, fruit, or wine, Most Confréries apart from organizing dinners and awards for their members and parading through towns and villages also organize fetes and market.  The Confrérie de la Truffe de Bourgogne does no less in its own area of Burgundy, and they have their own English language website,
The truffle market in Noyers.
Noyers-sur-Serein is a village in the department of Yonne in the region of Bourgogne-Franche-Comté.  It is just 24 km (15 miles) from the wine town of Chablis and is officially listed as one of the most beautiful villages of France.
The Truffe de Bourgogne: the Burgundy Truffle, the Tuber Unicatum in the languages of France’s neighbors:
(Catalan -  tòfona de la Borgonya), (Dutch - zommertruffle ),(German - trüffel der Bourgogn), (Italian – Tartufo Nero di Fragno Tartufo uncinato; Tartufo suareccio)., (Spanish - trufa de Borgoña, trufa de verano), (Latin -tuber uncinatum).

Truffe blanche d’été or truffe de la Saint-Jean.
The summer truffle or white summer truffle.
 (Latin - Tuber aestivum)

This is the same truffle as the Burgundy truffle from a different time of the year, with a different taste and smell and mostly found in different soils.  The summer truffle is technically the same as the Burgundy truffle but harvested from May to August.
The summer truffle, the white summer truffle,
 the truffe blanche d’été

Like their autumn cousins, these summer truffles are also found in a number of places in France and in other European countries.  They were long thought to be a completely different species and given a different Latin name - tuber aestivum.  However, it is the effect of different soils and different times of the year that make for a truffle with a much milder taste and smell. 
To create any effect on foods much larger quantities than those used for the Burgundy truffle are required, a few scrapings will not do the job.  The summer truffles’ color is dark-brown just like its autumn cousin and covered with the same pyramid-shaped projections; inside it is a lighter brown than the autumn variation but it darkens with age.  Only its harvesting at a different time of the year and its milder taste and smell differentiate the two; that difference means much lower prices and much more truffle to create an effect.
Truffe Blanche d’Été or the Truffe de la Saint-Jean - The summer truffle in the languages of France’s neighbors:

(Catalan - trufa de verano), (Dutch - zomertruffel), (German - sommer-trüffel), (Italian -  tartufo estivo), (Spanish - trufa de verano), (Latin - tuber aestivum)
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Bryan G Newman
Behind the French Menu
Copyright 2010, 2018.

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