For the love of truffle: How this high-brow ingredient became mainstream – plus the best dishes to try

We’re all about truffle (Picture: Instagram)

You go to a restaurant these days and somewhere on the menu, there’s truffle.

Truffle pasta, truffle chips, truffle oil-slicked burgers, truffle-flaked pizza, the list goes on…

When I recently visited The Ivy Kensington for a work lunch, I counted five different menu items containing some form of truffle.

I opted for truffle pasta, of course, despite having consumed just some days before truffle linguine at Borough’s Flour & Grape. That evening I went home to (unsuccessfully) book a table at London’s new Ave Mario, whose Instagram-hyped truffle pasta has caused it to be fully booked up for weeks.

I’ll get in one day. Though when the buzz will die down, I’m not so sure – truffle’s got a hold on our tongues and appetites like nothing else.

‘It’s just the most divine, luxurious flavour,’ Kiran, 26, tells us, ‘It elevates everything, from crisps to basic pasta dishes to mayo. If truffle is on the menu, there’s no question about what I’m ordering.’

‘The obsession is getting worse and worse,’ Sharnece says, who has now started buying truffle flavoured products to cook with at home.

Amy, who grows her own vegetables in Brighton, even ‘adds a splash’ of truffle oil into mashed potato nowadays.

Harriet, based in Surrey, hasn’t switched to incorporating truffle into her home cooking yet – it’s expensive to buy – but her love affair started two years ago and now: ‘every time I’m out getting pasta I’ll opt for truffle – even though it’s so rich and an indulgence’.

You’ll now find truffle on most menus (Picture: Getty Images)

Over in Piedmont, Italy, there’s a yearly festival dedicated to truffles (‘The whole town just smells of truffles and they’re a third of the price in London’, past attendee Bert says), and truffle hunting is now on the map as a new kind of pseudo-sporting activity.

So how did this ingredient capture our hearts and stomachs?

‘Since I started in a kitchen, about 16 years ago, truffle has always been one of the most important ingredients,’ says Filippo La Gattuta, executive chef at Big Mamma UK (behind Ave Mario, Gloria and Circolo Popolare).

‘Not only is truffle one of Italy’s more prized products, we source ours currently from Umbria, and adding it to our menu gives the opportunity for people to try truffle at a reasonable price.

‘I think social media has really opened up these more unusual and exclusive ingredients to people. One of our most Instagrammed dishes is our Mafaldine al Tartufo.’

But truffle, a fungus, can be a hard and rare product to find.

Filippo tells us: ‘You need knowledge, fortune, and time. It’s a wild product and very seasonal. They are so sought after because of this, and they’re impossible to cultivate.’

Unlike the avocado, another hyped-up ingredient whose popularity has come with high ethical and environmental costs, truffle can’t be cultivated, so the price changes weekly depending on how in demand it is and what’s available.

The rarest kind is white truffle, which is ‘one of the rarest products in the world’, with Filippo calling it ‘the absolute king of this season’. 

‘My favourite truffle is the white one, of course, due to this incredible flavour, taste and rarity,’ he adds. ‘It is absolutely the best product to work with in November.’

Though tracking down truffles can be a challenge, they aren’t difficult to cook with, according to Filippo: ‘You just need experience to balance a recipe with truffle, so it is not overpowering.

‘Our popular dish is very simple to make. The sauce is made from finely chopped shallot, fried with minced mushrooms and chopped truffle.

‘Then we add wine to deglaze, before adding mascarpone and parmesan. This is then tossed in the pasta of your choice.’

Another simple way to make the ingredient work with pasta is to use it fresh with white truffle butter, parmesan and freshly shaved white truffle on top.

Filippo advises ‘a simple truffle dish is the best, to allow for the flavour to shine through.’

And how exactly do you describe that flavour? Just as the price of truffle fluctuates season to season (with winter being most expensive and summer the cheapest time to buy), the flavour alters, too.

‘During the winter it is close to black olive mixed with mushroom,’ to Filippo’s palette.

His tip? Be wary of truffle oil, because truffles don’t produce it, so when you buy that what you’re really getting is ‘just a flavoured vegetable oil or an oil infused with real truffle – it depends on the price of the bottle on how much real truffle it includes.’

When it comes to truffles, you get what you pay for.

Looking for places to indulge in truffle? Check these London spots out for a bougie upgrade on the humble mushroom.

Ave Mario

The dish that’s got everyone talking (Picture: Ave Mario)

15 Henrietta St, London WC2E 8QG

Though it’s near impossible to get a table there at the moment, the famous truffle pasta dish, Mafaldine al Tartufo, is actually also available at their sister restaurants: Gloria (Shoreditch) and Circolo Poplare (Soho).

Harry’s Bar

Truffle for days (Picture: Instagram @harrysldn)

30, 34 James St, London W1U 1ER

Make a trip over to Harry’s this winter while their special limited edition white truffle menu is running.

Prices are high though, with white truffle pizza costing around £45.

Flour & Grape

Taglierini covered in rich truffle sauce (Picture: @flourandgrape)

214 Bermondsey St, London SE1 3TQ

Lesser known than the previous two, this spot deserves more attention.

Their truffle pasta is not only delicious, but somehow date-proof too – it doesn’t get messy and swirls around your fork with ease. How they do it, who knows.

Truffle London

Tastes just right (Picture: @trufflelondon)

35 Earlham St, London WC2H 9LD

Sneak into Seven Dials food market and head for the back corner. There lies a truffle stand, serving up a large portion of cheesy truffle flavour chips for £4.

Anna Mae’s Mac ‘n Cheese

Cheesy goodness (Picture: @mac_not_crack)

Victoria Park, London, E2 9JW (location may change)

Currently on their market menu is the ‘magic mushroom’, meaning the fancy truffle, (which, if consumed in a high enough quantity could get you high), which is made up of warming creamy mac ‘n cheese topped with black truffle and rocket.

For chilly market days, this will keep your hands and belly toasty.

Shake Shack

It goes with fast-food too (Picture: @shakeshack)

Various branches

For a limited time only, Shake Shack have a truffle-themed menu for Christmas.

So if fast-food and burgers are more your vibe, grab a black truffle meal while you can.

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