At the end of a distressing year, perhaps now’s an ideal time for indulging in a little truffle-cheese decadence. In the best of this special category, the heady earthy, garlicky, musky taste of the truffles plays a harmonious duet with the creamy, rich, sweet and tangy flavors of their foundation cheeses, wonderfully enhancing both partners.
Truffles are culinary gold: Harvests fluctuate from year to year, and there have been instances of fakes. Fresh black ones retail for $30 to $90 per ounce; white truffles for around $200 an ounce. The good news is a little bit goes a long way. A typical recipe, per 100 pounds of cheese, calls for between 5 ounces and 14 ounces of truffle slivers augmented by roughly half a cup of white truffle–infused oil.
After sourcing the truffles, the cheesemaker’s next challenge is to ensure balance between the cheese’s lactic and the truffle’s fungal flavors so that both stand out, yet neither overwhelms the other. Truffles go well with various styles of cheeses, from creamy soft-ripened French types to chèvres, cheddars, Goudas and pecorinos. Cow’s milk gets along swimmingly with truffles but, if anything, goat’s and sheep’s milks find even happier marriages.
A good starting point in the cow’s-milk realm is the Triple Crème Brie with Truffles from California’s Marin French Cheese Co., which provides no uncertain reminder that mushrooms and cream go together like Bogie and Bacall. (Cream of mushroom soup, anyone?) Ditto the mild, buttery Fromager d’Affinois from Fromagerie Guilloteau in the Loire, with its hint of tang and judicious dose of truffle.
Truffle cheddars are another relatively mild gateway: Recommended are the Ballard Family Dairy, from Idaho; Plymouth Artisan and Grafton Village, both Vermonters. The Ballard is rich, tangy-sweet and kid-friendly; the Plymouth a bit sharper and tangier but still appealingly smooth and mild; and the Grafton is masterfully balanced, with moderate tang, restrained butterfat and truffle hovering modestly in the background.
Sergio Moro, a talented innovator in Italy’s Veneto region, provides two semi-soft toma-style rejoinders: Oro Italiano and Sottocenere al Tartufo. Both are highly approachable, with mellow creamy and pleasantly tangy flavors. The Oro also features saffron flavoring, the Sottocenere a hint of minerality from its ash coating.
To mark its 80th anniversary in business, DiBruno Bros. commissioned Ottanta al Tartufo, a year-end limited edition. Made by Vermont’s Landaff Creamery, it’s based on their Caerphilly-like namesake cheese and offers refreshing notes of buttermilk and yogurt.
Outstanding among truffled Goudas are the raw-milk Dutch Melkbus, which is young, mild and inviting, with some coffee/cocoa notes; and the Marieke Gouda, from Wisconsin, which is sold at two to three months, or nine to 12 months. The younger Marieke’s tart-sweet lactic flavors jibe seamlessly with the garlicky aspect of the truffles; the older one is mellower, with some emerging caramel and mown-hay notes and an earthier truffle impression.
A goat’s milk entry point is a traditional chèvre log from Laura Chenel in Sonoma, Calif. Truffle Tremor, from Cypress Grove, in Arcata, Calif., demonstrates how well a fine soft-ripened chèvre can love its truffles, proffering just enough complementary salt, funk, tang and herbal/floral notes.
A perennial favorite in sheep’s milk—having amassed something of a cult following and ushering us into more assertive territory—is the Moliterno al Tartufo. This rustic Sardinian pecorino is aged two months then injected with black truffle paste, which forms dark veins of marbling. Relentlessly oozing butterfat as it hardens with age, it adds some Provolone-like bite and cranks up the salty and funky bittersweet notes. For those who like ’em loud, it’s a real rocker.
Another rough-and-ready classic, Cacio di Bosco al Tartufo, from the Tuscan co-op Il Forteto, also brings some of that in-your-face salty sheepiness and Provolone bite before mellowing to a long, sweetish finish. Finally, there are two versions of Boschetto al Tartufo, also from Il Forteto: The younger Bianchetto opens with sweetness followed by a mouthwatering burst of salt and tang fading to a truffly aftertaste; the older, more savory Stagionato highlights buttery sheep’s-milk umami.
David Gibbons is co-author of Mastering Cheese.
RECOMMENDED TRUFFLE CHEESES
BALLARD TRUFFLE & SALT CHEDDAR, $12 for 8 ounces, ballardcheese.com
BOSCHETTO AL TARTUFO BIANCHETTO, $17 for 7 ounces, igourmet.com
BOSCHETTO AL TARTUFO STAGIONATO, $15 for 7.5 ounces, igourmet.com
CACIO DI BOSCO AL TARTUFO, $18 for 8 ounces, dibruno.com
CYPRESS GROVE TRUFFLE TREMOR, $29 per pound, cypressgrovecheese.com
FROMAGER D’AFFINOIS, $10 for 7.5 ounces, igourmet.com
GRAFTON VILLAGE TRUFFLE CHEDDAR, $8 for 8 ounces, dakinfarm.com
MARIEKE GOUDA TRUFFLE , $15 per pound, mariekegouda.com
MARIN FRENCH CHEESE CO. TRIPLE CRÈME TRUFFLE BRIE, $12 for 8 ounces, northbaycreameries.com
MOLITERNO AL TARTUFO, $18 for 8 ounces, dibruno.com
ORO ITALIANO, $10 for 7.5 ounces, igourmet.com
RAW MILK GOUDA WITH TRUFFLES (from Melkbus), $19 for 7.5 ounces, igourmet.com