According to Wikipedia, truffle oil is olive oil infused with organic aromatics to impart the flavor of truffles. That is a rather ambiguous definition; is truffle oil flavored with truffles?
It turns out, most likely, no. Truffle oils are flavored with the chemical components that make up the complex flavor of real truffles, but not truffles themselves. Manufacturers of truffle oils typically use high quality oils to enhance the overall flavor and offset the fact that they are fibbing about what their product really is. Professional chefs use truffle-flavored olive oil along with real truffles to keep the price of their dishes reasonable. The good news is that truffle oil tastes enough like truffles to fool a lot of pros, so for most of us, it may as well be the real thing.
The flavor and aroma seem to be the biggest issue with truffles; people will spend hundreds to thousands of dollars for the real deal. That, combined with their increasing rarity, means that unless you are fabulously wealthy, the taste of real truffles is probably beyond most of us. But if the flavor of truffle oil is good enough for chefs, is it good enough for us?
Not having any real personal experience with truffles, I have to defer to the pros. Some say “absolutely not”, others say it’s good enough to accent the real deal. Considering real truffles are typically found in France and Italy, most Americans will never know what a real one tastes like. The genuine article is hunted by dogs now; in the past they used pigs, but being that they are omnivorous, and pretty smart as animals go, the pigs tended to eat as many as they unearthed for their handlers, so they have been mostly replaced by bloodhounds and other breeds with a knack for scent.
The most widely known and expensive breeds of truffle are the Italian Summer and White Truffles, and the French Black truffle. There are lesser known food-quality truffles from China and the Pacific Northwest, but odds are against you finding them in food any time soon. The white are the most sought after of the bunch; in 2007 a casino owner purchased the largest white truffle found to date; a 3.3 pounder found in northern Italy, sold in an auction held simultaneously in Hong Kong, Macau and Florence, for $330,000.
If you don’t have the cash for genuine truffles and don’t want to “settle” for truffle oil, there are plenty of truffle butters out there with real pieces of truffle in them. Mix that with a bit of the oil, and you can at least enjoy the flavor of high cuisine at a fraction of the price.
What do YOU think? Have you ever tried truffle olive oil?