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Meet Ian Purkayastha, a truffle dealer from Queens, New York. Yes, that's his actual job. Ian is the founder of Regalis, a New York-based luxury foods company. He procures hard-to-find ingredients from around the world, mainly fresh truffles, and sells them to fine-dining and Michelin-starred restaurants in New York.
"They grow underground and they're obviously extremely rare and hard to find," Ian says, "that's why they're worth their weight in gold."
Want to learn more about truffles? We had the 27-year-old Truffle Guy himself in the house, and he's giving you a primer on the fancy fungus. Here's your truffle 101, courtesy of Ian.
WHAT ARE TRUFFLES?
Not to be confused with those of the chocolate variety, the truffles that Ian deals in are actually an underground fungus.
Truffles grow on the tree roots of certain trees, primarily in Europe, Ian explains. Truffles also have a very pungent smell, which animals are trained to locate.
"They're sought after by dogs, mainly, because they grow about a foot deep, he says. "They used to use pigs."
HOW MUCH DO TRUFFLES COST?
While there are some varieties of truffles in the United States, they aren't as coveted as the European varieties, according to the expert. Therefore, they're not as expensive — but they're still extremely pricey.
"The white truffles go for about $4,000 a pound wholesale and the burgundy go for between $600 and $1,000 a pound wholesale," Ian says.
WHY ARE TRUFFLES SO EXPENSIVE?
Truffles are exclusively wild. No one has really been able to successfully cultivate the white truffle, which is why they're so expensive and why they're so rare, according to the truffle pro.
WHAT ARE THE DIFFERENT KINDS OF TRUFFLES?
Burgundy Black Truffles
"Burgundy has a very nutty, very earthy aroma," Ian says.
Black truffles are found mostly in Italian and French territories. There are winter black truffles and summer black truffles. The summer black truffle, the mildest of all varieties, is usually the cheapest.
White truffles come in winter and summer varieties, too.
"White truffles have a very garlicky, cheesy aroma — and that's also why they're so intoxicating," Ian says. "A little goes a long way."
HOW DO YOU USE TRUFFLES?
Truffles bind well to fat, so Ian likes to shave them onto ice cream. He uses a truffle shaver on the white truffle, pointing out the "intricate marbling inside" of the truffle. He also topped the vanilla ice cream and truffle shavings with truffle salt and a little olive oil and honey to bring everything together.
Another great way to incorporate truffles or truffle salt is in a bowl of popcorn. Ian shaved the black truffle over popcorn and drizzled some truffle oil on top.
See him make a truffle sundae and truffle popcorn in the video below.
ARE THERE PRODUCT ALTERNATIVES TO FRESH TRUFFLES?
Truffle salt, truffle oil and truffle butter are less expensive alternatives to fresh truffles that still give you the truffle flavor.
Rach likes to use freshly grated truffle or truffle oil in her Ultimate Mac and Cheese.
When buying truffle oil especially, make sure it actually contains truffle. A lot of truffle oil is made from a synthetic flavoring, Ian says.
"The way that we make truffle oil organically is we keep it in a [sealed] container," he explains. "We just keep the truffles adjacent to oil and it infuses naturally. It's a little lighter tasting, but it actually tastes like truffles."
Because truffles are so aromatic, if you put them near anything you want to infuse with the flavor, it will take on the taste of the truffle.