The Truth About Truffle Oil
November 8th, 2010
If we were going to buy gold dust, we’d want it to contain actual gold — and we feel similarly about truffle oil. Considering that the exotic fungi sell for as much as $2,200 a pound, it’s probably not entirely surprising that almost all so-called truffle oils are created by mixing olive oil with synthetic compounds that seek to duplicate the distinctive aroma and flavor of truffles. When The New York Times published a story a few years ago by an acclaimed San Francisco chef revealing the “hocus-pocus” in truffle oil, readers were so dismayed that food critic Frank Bruni responded with a blog post assuring readers that a little truffle oil — or, as he said, “oil of truffle-mimicking chemicals” — still had its place. Used sparingly, he said, it was wonderful on popcorn or scrambled eggs.
Now we can tell you about a truffle oil that’s the genuine article. That would be from Rosario Safina, a New York City-based truffle dealer whose company, daRosario Organics, sells truffle honey, truffle salt and seasonings, truffle butter and truffle oil that contains actual bits of truffles. About 18 months after the Times printed its original story about “phony” truffle oil, it posted an update, reporting that the daRosario truffle oil presented an “authentic alternative.”
To search out true truffle oil, Safina advises looking for the words “organic white [or black] truffles” in the ingredients list and the USDA Organic seal on the label. “Truffles are organic,” he says, “and the organic seal is the only way to tell you have the real thing.” (Our old bottle of Trader Joe’s White Truffle Oil says “infused with white truffles aroma.”)
When we met Safina at a food show, he gave us a few products to sample, including his decadent truffle butter. (While you can find links to online grocers for Safina’s other products at darosario.com, the truffle butter is available only locally to lucky New Yorkers at a few gourmet shops and through freshdirect.com for $13.49 per 2-ounce jar.) Safina also sent us home with a simple, elegant recipe: Cook fresh fettuccine or taglietti in well-salted water. Drain, but leave some water clinging to the pasta. Immediately mix with the truffle butter and sprinkle with fresh-grated Parmesan cheese. The dish, we’re happy to report, was absolutely sublime, and the perfect thing to serve for our first home-cooked meal in a budding romance.
Though that romance wilted, we nonetheless fell in love with the truffle oil and, as Safina suggested, we’ve been using it judiciously as a condiment, a few drops sprinkled on grilled vegetables or fish, macaroni and cheese, and on a freshly made pizza with thinly sliced potatoes, sage and ricotta cheese. Safina also recommends a light salad of fresh baby spinach leaves, button mushrooms sliced paper thin with a potato peeler, shards of Parmesan cheese, a squeeze of fresh lemon juice and a teaspoon of white truffle oil. (Meat eaters can add a tablespoon or so of crumbled pancetta.) What not to do, however ardent your love of truffles and extravagant your budget, is to cook with a couple of tablespoons of truffle oil instead of, say, olive or canola oil. The flavor will absolutely overpower the dish. Drizzle — don’t pour — on freshly prepared foods as a finishing seasoning.
At about $26 for 8 authentic ounces, truffle oil is a luxury we’ve been enjoying if not every day, then a couple of times a week. What’s your favorite luxury food?