Peppercorn, the culinary shop, is tucked into the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder, Colo. It comprises three levels of jam-packed culinary delights from dishes to cooking equipment, linens to a well-chosen trove of cookbooks. It’s a treasure-hunter’s dream and my sister and I make a pilgrimage up there every time I visit.
This year, one of my scores was a 4-ounce jar of Fusion Black Truffle Salt from the Artisan Salt Company. It was made in Washington State, it combines only sea salt and black truffle. I had to have it, and I paid dearly for it.
Black truffle, as most foodies know, has a powerful aroma and flavor. Use too much (and I believe there is such a thing) and the richness can bowl you over. (I would add, that’s a nice way to go!)
Use an inferior quality truffle oil or salt or a truffle that is not fresh, and you’ll wonder what all the excitement is about. I haven’t gone on a truffle hunt, I haven’t yet gone to Italy in truffle season and had it generously grated over my handmade pasta (though I did have this experience at Lydia Bastianich’s Felidia in New York recently). But I have become intimately familiar with it’s singular aroma, the earthiness, the deep fragrance that makes you close your eyes when you breathe it in.
There are several types of truffles: the white truffles are rare, and thus very expensive, coming from Italy’s Umbria and Piedmont regions. The black truffle, found in the Perigord region of France, are, not surprisingly sometimes called Perigord truffles. There are other types, such as summer or grey truffles, used in both Italian and French cooking.
My little jar of salt didn’t say where the black truffle was sourced, but opening the paper seal, just the tiniest bit, let out a cloud of mushroomy fragrance that I knew boded well for some truffle-accented dishes. I started with some buttery Slow-Cooked Scrambled Eggs with Pepato Cheese and Chevre — and a healthy pinch of truffle salt to finish.
Black truffle is indispensable in the French pâte de foie gras truffé or for spreading on crostini or inserting under the skin of a roast chicken. Or, as herb and spice expert Aliza Green also suggests, in her book “Field Guide to Herbs and Spices,” “Serve beef carpaccio dressed with fine olive oil and shaved truffles.”
White truffles have a more delicate flavor, are harder to come by and, says Green, are “best enjoyed by shaving paper-thin slices raw onto eggs, pasta and risotto, just before serving.”
Truffle salt, on the other hand, seems to me to be an expedient way to get some of that wonderful flavor into your food any time of year, and at a fraction of the price. If you have truffle salt, or decide to find some, look for an ingredient list of only two items: truffles, sea salt. (Locally, you can find it at GauchoGourmet, 935 Isom Road, or at www.gauchogourmet.com.)
Here are some things to try
1. Truffle-salted cantaloupe or other sweet melon: The truffle gives the salt a heady, savory aroma, which might make it work well sprinkled on honeydew melon.
2. Portobellos on the grill. Portobellos are big and meaty, and if you’ve ever lightly oiled one and sizzled it on the grill, you know it’s a worthy accompaniment to steak, or sliced and served on a platter with other grilled vegetables. I might try stirring together some browned onions, cream and a cheese like Compté, season with some truffle salt and let it melt into gooeyness on the grill, inside the bowl of the portobello.
3. Use as a finishing salt for steak or lamb. Or make a flavored butter by mixing unsalted butter with sauteed minced shallots, a bit of lemon juice and a pinch of truffle salt. Shape into a cylinder and chill it, then slice into thick rounds to garnish the grilled or roasted meat. We’ve also found the truffle flavor wonderful with chicken, and why not with wings? Here’s a wings recipe that we’ve tried — and loved.
4. Popcorn. We’ll try a generous shaking of truffle salt with our popcorn soon, definitely with a drizzle of truffle oil.
5. Here are some other foods whose flavors have an affinity for truffles, from Aliza Green: Almond, chipotle, cilantro, cinnamon, coconut, cumin, duck, eggplant, ginger, honey, mango, mint, orange, star anise, sweet potato, tomato and tuna.