The Cheese Whisperer: Black Truffle Cheese Beckons
Famous French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin called truffles “the diamond of the kitchen.” Prized for an ethereal, earthy taste, truffles possess a pleasant savory flavor, distinct from saltiness, sometimes referred to as “umame.” Often used sparingly, truffles are frequently shaved paper-thin for maximum flavor and preserved in oil, butter and cheese.
A new arrival in the Co-op’s cheese case, Sottocenere (“Under Ash”) al Tartufo (“with truffles”), is an elegant semi-soft cheese from the Veneto region of Italy, and a perfect example of truffle infused cheeses. Sottocenere al Tartufo is made from fresh, raw cow’s milk mixed with shaved black truffle and aged at least 3 months in ash, as per Venetian tradition. The cheese has a silky texture and a mild, smooth truffled flavor with a spicy rind covered with coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, licorice, fennel, anise, cloves and truffle oil.
Truffles originated as a wild food, but many are harvested from truffle-fields across the globe, including major growing regions in France, Italy, Spain, and in up and coming truffle producers like Sweden, the USA, the UK, New Zealand, Australia, and Chile. The
Pacific Northwest is even home to several distinct species of truffles, including the Oregon white truffle, Tuber oregonense and
The black truffle (Tuber melanosporum) used to flavor Sottocenere al Tartufo grows in connection with oak and Hazelnut tree root systems. Despite skepticism from Brillat-Savarin and others, the truffle can be domesticated by practicing “trufficulture.” An early pioneer, Auguste Rousseau, planted acorns at the foot of his oak trees and yielded a large truffle harvest. His work was so admired that he received a prize at the 1855 World’s Fair in Paris.
Most truffles are hunted with the help of a truffle-seeking sow (truffle hog) or sometimes by trained Lagotto Romagnolo dogs, the only canine breed used to scout for truffles. Truffle hogs have an innate ability to find the mushroom because it contains similar chemical compounds to androstenol, the sex pheromone in boar saliva. What a sow tease.
Pluck a slice of Sottocenere al Tartufo for yourself and savor it solo or added delicately to fresh pasta or an omelet. Pair with a full-bodied Italian red wine, such as a Sangiovese or Chianti. Inhale, enjoy, and remember the roaming truffle hunters.