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Blind taste testing truffles

Updated: Jun 4


Dimethyl sulfide (think boiling cabbage) is the main aromatic compound in truffles. One of at lease 280 others. How many can you identify?


In this post, we will examine blind taste testing in the appreciation of coffee, wine, and beer, and explore how it might relate to the appreciation of truffles. While future posts will delve deeply into how blind taste testing might be applied to truffles, this post will start with a brief look at the 'baggage' that hinders an unbiased appreciation of truffles. Along the way, we will explore the differences between blind tasting for truffles and other products, concluding with a brief outline of what blind testing might look like for truffles. Are you ready? Excellent, let’s dive in.


Blind taste testing has been a staple in the coffee industry since the late 1800s, used by roasters and buyers to assess coffee quality and create consistent blends. An unbiased approach to tasting coffee, wine, and beer typically involves knowing nothing about their origin, allowing you to focus solely on their sensory qualities—aroma, flavour, acidity, body, and aftertaste. Sampling truffles, on the other hand, is more complicated. Before you can evaluate their aromatic qualities, you need to contend with their heavily loaded reputation, especially for first-time users. The high value and expense of truffles build a sense of anticipation and expectation that can heavily impact the way you appreciate them.


At this point, let’s take a quick detour to define anticipation and expectation. Then, we will examine some of the techniques used in the coffee, wine, and beer industries to appreciate their products in an unbiased way, and how we truffle lovers can adopt and adapt these methods.


Human anticipation

I found a compelling explanation of anticipation in an academic article on anxiety that beautifully captures its essence. Allow me to quote it in full:


“The human brain, it has been written, is an ‘anticipation machine,’ and ‘making future’ is the most important thing it does. The ability to use past experiences and information about our current state and environment to predict the future allows us to increase the odds of desired outcomes while avoiding or bracing ourselves for future adversity. This ability is directly related to our level of certainty regarding future events—how likely they are, when they will occur, and what they will be like. Uncertainty diminishes how efficiently and effectively we can prepare for the future, and thus contributes to anxiety.”


From the moment we open our eyes for the first time until we finally close them, our brains are constantly making sense of the world to build a mental model. Whether it’s interpreting the frequency of light our eyes perceive as blue or understanding what it means to be human, our brains are always constructing and reconstructing this model, confirming, or negating our anticipations.


However, there's more to this process than mere confirmation and negation of experiences. The construction of our world models is complex and non-linear, influenced by a combination of genetic predispositions, cognitive processes, attitudes, social conditioning, cultural norms, and personal experiences. Did I hear you say it sounds complex? It sure is. Now, let's move on to our expectations.


Human expectation


The first thing I think we need to clarify the is difference between anticipation and expectation, they are different.


Both are both related to the future where anticipation is the act of looking forward to something that is going to happen, perhaps with excitement or with pleasure. Expectation, on the other hand, is about looking forward to something with the belief or assumption that it will happen in a particular way.


Like anticipation, expectations are also formed by a combination of genetic predispositions, cognitive processes, attitudes, social conditioning, cultural norms, and personal experiences. The difference however, between anticipation and expectations is that by anticipating something, we we become excited about the possibilities, but we are not attached to a specific outcome. With expectations, we are attached to a specific outcome, and this can lead to disappointment if things do not go as planned.


Its our expectations about truffles that are often the cause of what we have come to call truffle disappointment. The phenomenon which usually happens t0 people the first time they try truffles and they come away feeling duped or not understanding what the fuss is all about. If I had a dollar for the number of time people walk up to our stall to tell us they don’t understand the what fuss is about or they think truffles are over rated or that their first experience was a negative, we would be rich by now.


Now for the good news, there a techniques that have been developed and used by the coffee, wine and beer industries that are designed to get around the pitfalls of tasting thrown up by our innate tendency to want to anticipate and derive expectations of the way a sensory experience should go. Its called blind tasting and with a little bit of focus and training using some of the suggestions below it has the potential to also take your truffle enjoyment to new heights.


Blind tasting techniques for truffles.

There are many ways to conduct blind taste testing, but our preferred method is commonly used for wines. We have adapted this method for truffles, considering the unique aspects of truffle tasting compared to the other three products we mentioned earlier.


Specifically, since truffles are typically not eaten on their own, you can replace the tasting component with pairing on the plate. While wine and beer are paired with food, with the flavours mingling in the mouth, the principles of pairing are similar for truffles, where the combination of ingredients and truffles occurs on the plate.


The truffle blind tasting grid

Our version of the truffle blind tasting grid, still in development and will be completed soon. In the meantime, we are happy show you our preliminary thoughts noting that some things may change. Ok, let’s go.


Our truffle blind tasting grid has been adapted from the structure commonly used in wine tasting. It comprises a detailed list of truffle characteristics categorised into physical/visual, aromatic, and taste paring aspects. This grid serves can as a systematic training tool for tasters to mentally dissect aromas, flavours, and textures, aiding in the identification of different truffle characteristics.


Interestingly, this grid not only serves well for blind tasting but also plays a crucial role in understanding what distinguishes a great truffle. It helps assess whether a truffle complements or paired well with the ingredients of your dish. Always bear in mind, the ultimate goal of any truffle assessment is to ascertain how harmoniously it compliments the ingredients of the recipe you are planning to create.


Our adapted truffle blind tasting grid consists of the following:


Visual/Physical

  • Description of desirable gleba

  • Characteristics of appealing truffle skin

  • Weightiness/density

  • Firmness

  • Condition


Nose

  • Intensity

  • Fruity

  • Floral

  • Spicy

  • Maillard

  • Nutty

  • Earthy

  • Vegetal & Herbal

  • Chemical

  • Acidic

  • Animalistic


(Note: The above aroma characteristics are adapted from the Australian Truffle Wheel and can be further categorised into specific aroma compounds, which will be included in our final blind tasting grid.)


Origin

  • State

  • Region

  • Farm

  • Tree type


Climate

  • Moisture

  • Temperature


Age

  • Days from harvest


Pairing (On the Plate)

  • Physical Incorporation

  • Intensity

  • Complementarity

  • Notes that were missed


Conclusion

  • Quality

  • Aromas you missed

  • Final notes for your self.


Blind tasting process


This can be done on your own or with friends, yes, why not make it a dinner with friends?

Either way the steps are the same. Choose your truffles from a reputable dealer or your friendly truffle farm.


Step one (the selection)

Collect as much information to populate the grid from your farmer or dealer.

Sample the truffle’s aroma, remember they are all very unique.

There should be one that will best pare with the ingredients of your recipe.


This is probably the hardest part of the process because your going to have to conjure the aromas of your ingredients in your imagination. One technique is to have a list of them to prompt your brain with you when you have the truffle in your hand. Remember fresh is best.


A way to fast track your truffle aroma discernment skills is to select two or three smaller truffles and compare how each works with the same recipe. Tip: get friends to bring their own truffle! (don't forget to share the recipe with them though.)


Step two (list the truffle aromatics)

  • From the aroma of the truffle, list the aroma components from the ‘Nose’ list.


Step three (create your recipe)

  • Let the chef loose, now get into the kitchen and do your magic with that recipe and those lovely ingredients.


Step four (add the truffle)

  • If you have already incorporated your truffle into the dish, skip this step.

  • Shave or grate your truffle onto the plate.

  • This is a crucial step and selecting to shave or grate will impact the intensity of the final outcome. If you love truffle intensity, go for grating. If its a particularly intense truffle, it may be better to shave. It really is a personal thing.


Step five (savor each bite)

  • There are no wrong answers here. Let your mind run free when answering the questions below.

  • Rate how well it has all come together in the plate.

  • Are the notes there that you identified at step two sampling the truffle aroma only?

  • Are there any notes you recognise now that where missed when you sampled the truffle aroma only.

  • Go back to the truffle and give it another smell if you have any left.

  • If you have a second or third truffle now is the time to try those.

  • What are the differences? Was it the intensity or different notes of the truffles that made the difference you liked/disliked?

  • Did the truffle you pick as the best for the recipe perform the best? If it did not which one did? Why?

  • Really get to know why the winner was the winner. Smell and re-smell it! Amongst other things, you are building a personal preference.

  • What was it about the best performing truffle that made it a success? Was it intensity, similar aromatics or were there aromatics you missed that helped it shine in a way that surprised you in the plate.

  • Remember sometimes while some aromatics can dominant when you sample the aroma of the truffle, in the plate, some aromatics can mix with other minor components in the recipe and come to ultimately dominate everything else in the plate. Yep, its glorious!


And there you have it. If you have any truffle left over remember its best to use it up as soon as possible. Don’t leave it in the fridge, at least make a truffle butter if its not all gone within a few days.


And that’s a wrap, an exposure draft of our version of the truffle blind tasting grid, I hope you liked it and found it interesting. Stay tuned for the final version in two weeks. If you have any suggestions or comments I would love to hear them. Next week we are going to go on a nationwide hunt for the best truffle in Australia, are you ready for that one?


If you liked this post, please go ahead, and share it with your friends and fellow truffle enthusiasts. If you've got any truffle stories or questions, as always, we're all ears.


Ciao for now truffle lovers.


Carmine

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