Truffles on Your Table

Reprinted from Santé magazine.


Few foods evoke such a feeling of luxury and mystique as truffles. The image of a lone forager and his prized pig tromping at dawn through mist covered woods to unearth the lumpy treasure is not merely a romantic picture. Though most pigs have been replaced by dogs, and some changes have been introduced, truffles are still unearthed the way people have been hunting them for millennia. The fungus grows on the living roots of certain species of hazel, chestnut, oak, poplar, and beech trees. The dog or pig smells powerful pheromones emitted by the fungus and alerts the handler who deftly, and carefully, digs up the truffle. This unique procuring process, along with the truffle’s short shelf life, has made prices prohibitive and has kept truffles out of reach for many restaurants. However, recent innovations now make what was once available only to a select few, an option for everyone.

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black truffles

Shelf life of 5-7 days

Cultivated in truffle plantations around the world 

Black crusty exterior

Famously from the Perigor region of France but also found in Italy, Spain, US, New Zealand, and Australia.

Flavor is less than white but still strong

$100 or $800 a pound depending on species

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white truffles

Shelf life of 2-3 days

Strong flavor often described as cheesy, garlicky, yeasty

Cannot be propagated 

Smooth, delicate, thin skin

Found only in Italy

$4,000 a pound

Sabatino Tartufi has been on the forefront of truffle production since 1911. A family owned company, they started with a small tract of land in Umbria, Italy and are now one of the world’s largest producers of fresh and manufactured truffle products.

“Truffles elevate every dish,” says their CEO Federico Balestra.  “Our goal is to transport everyone’s taste buds to Italy one truffle at a time.” All of Sabatino Tartufi’s truffles come from Europe and Australia. They partner with an extensive network of reputable individual purveyors and farmers. European truffles make their way to their Italian facility in Montecastrilli, in Italy’s Umbria region. Those not distributed in Europe, travel to their 60,000 square foot facility in West Haven, CT.

“Our facility in Connecticut is larger than our European one because in Europe, the foodservice market is mostly interested in fresh truffles. In the US, professionals and consumers are eager to try new products,” says Balestra.

A sampling of Sabatino Tartufi's products

A sampling of Sabatino Tartufi's products

New products are, of course, important but their primary business is fresh truffles. “When you cook with fresh truffles, you’re creating art,” says Balestra. Black truffles have a hard, bumpy shell which protects them but not so with white truffles. “They’re like ticking time bombs,” says Balestra.  “If they get dropped, they’re destroyed.” White truffles are delivered to the European facility within a few hours after being underground, and they arrive at their final destination within in one day. White truffles can be held for three days before the quality starts to diminish. Black truffles can last seven.

There are about 200 species of truffles generally categorized into black and white but only four are sought after. For black, the desired species are Tuber aestivum vitt, and Tuber uncinatum which both retail at about $100 a pound, and Tuber melanosporum, which costs around $800. Only one white truffle species, Tuber magnatum pico, at around $4,000 dollars a pound, is prized. Each truffle has its own flavor and aroma characteristics. 



Many truffle products do not contain truffles. If something is too cheap, it probably has chemical compounds that mimic truffle flavor.

Beware of black-market truffles. Less desirable truffle varieties are sprayed with scents and passed off as the real deal. Chinese truffles look the same on the outside, but have little taste.

Truffle crime abounds. As with any pricey product, tax evasion, night-time heists, counterfeits, and sabotage are not uncommon. Truffle dogs are often kidnapped. During harvest season in truffle producing regions of France, police put up road blocks and search suspicious cars.


In truffle-producing areas, truffle hunters keep locations secret and poachers are severely punished with heavy fines and jail sentences. The odds of finding black truffles are somewhat increased by the process of inoculating their spores into certain trees. “Truffle Plantations” can produce slightly more per acre when compared to yield in the wild. This unfortunately is not the case for the more flavorful and aromatic white truffle. Attempts to inoculate trees with white truffle spores have failed making them even rarer — and therefore much more costly. The black truffle is harvested in Europe in the summer but now, with New Zealand and Australia producing truffles in their summers (North American winters), more are available year-round. White truffles are still available on in the winter. 



Truffles are aphrodisiacs. Truffles emit powerful pheromones which sexually arouse pigs. Humans assumed they would do the same thing for them. Wrestling with a horny pig to get a truffle is dangerous; now it is more common to use specially trained dogs to detect truffles.

Ancient people believed truffles were formed when lightning struck the earth

Greeks and Romans believed they gave eternal health to body and soul making them a prize ingredient to the upper classes. 

The Catholic Church banned these so-called “devil’s fruits” during medieval times because of their hypnotic, aphrodisiac-like qualities.


Truffles not sold fresh are used for Sabatino Tartufi’s products which include truffle maple syrup, and truffle soy sauce. Their most popular product, Truffle Zest, is also their newest. Truffle Zest is a powdered form of truffle. It is low sodium, and gluten free and can be sprinkled into sauces or on pizzas, even scrambled into eggs. This patented product has won numerous prizes including FABI 2017, an award given by the National Restaurant Association, and is used in over ten recipes in Oprah Winfrey’s Food, Health and Happiness cookbook. It has been featured in cooking segments on The Chew and The Rachel Ray Show, and by Stephen Colbert. It is used both in foodservice and by consumers to easily and economically, give a dash of the flavor prized by chefs and gourmands the world over.

For a free sample, call 212-920-4656 or email 

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Deborah Norkin