In Umbria, pastas are often topped with generous shavings of tartufo nero, the local treasure. These wrinkled, black funghi may not appear to be much, but one taste of their full flavor, at once earthy and ethereal, is enough to convert any naysayer. Unlike white truffles, black truffles can also be served cooked, and their distinct flavor makes a superb complement to meat dishes.
Two varieties of black truffles grow in Umbria; the weaker summer truffles and the valued black truffles, with which we are concerned here. Stronger in flavor than their summertime counterpart, these truffles ripen from November to March, and are particularly prized if they come from the rich soil bordering the Nera, Corno, and Sordo rivers.
Umbrian black truffles tend to be the size of a large walnut, but can mature to the size of an apple. Though we prefer to take advantage of fresh truffles when in season, black truffles are also available preserved in oil in specialty food shops.