Truffle oil? You can have it, but I wish you wouldn’t.
A bit of a rant this week – as much as I love truffles, all truffle products are not created equal. Truffles are curious things. They smell sweet, musky, rank, like a damp forest floor, like a farmer’s unwashed overalls, like warm tennis shoes and sweaty armpits, like parsnips caramelising in the edge of a roasting tin, beefy, savoury, like dried porcini mushrooms, vegemite, cognac, like garlic slowly turning golden in gently sizzling butter … an intoxicating aroma that you can’t help but notice. A truffle does not smell of all these things at any one time, the aromas fleetingly waft around a truffle, and when you sniff again the scent that entranced you, or revolted you, is gone. If it is a smell you like, you keep on sniffing hoping to find it again. If it was something that turned you off, you pull away hoping not to re-encounter it. It’s when all these aromas get mixed up together and you are drawn to and pushed away at the same time that you really learn the meaning of intoxication. Curious little devils indeed.
But why chefs would think it is cool to drizzle a product that captures the worst of these scents, namely sweaty armpits and warm tennis shoes, over food to give it an air of, well, expensive exoticness, is beyond me. The product I am talking about is truffle oil. I hate the stuff. In fact, I actually loathe it. Drizzling offensively stinky oil over the top of food because it is a trendy thing to do is a trick of lazy chefs. Does the food not taste delicious enough without truffle oil? Truffle oil won’t improve the flavour of a dish and it would be best to correct the dish before squirting stinky oil over the top. If a dish would benefit from a flourish of oil, use exquisite New Zealand extra virgin olive oil.
The thing with truffle oil is that it does not usually contain truffle, nor is it usually derived from truffles. There are some exceptions, but I am not talking about those. It is commonly made from a synthetic flavour compound, and herein lays the problem because the flavour compounds are mainly the stinky elements of truffles. Oils labelled truffle aroma, truffle scent, truffle flavour or truffle concentrate are most likely based on a synthetic flavour compound. Ditch it. Stop stinking out restaurants with this foul smell, because anyone who has a fair to middling sense of smell will be infected by its stench in a restaurant – a waitperson taking a truffle oil-infected dish to a diner leaves a waft of foulness in his or her wake. And Heaven Forbid should someone at your table order a dish sprayed with the stuff. It’s enough to make you walk out.
Whoever invented the stuff has a lot to answer for.