Grading Truffle versus Classifying

Truffle Grading

“We don't care to eat toadstools that think they are truffles.” — Mark Twain.

Commonly truffles are classified by a size/shape system that indicates nothing about their actual eating qualities.
To grade a truffle on qualities of flavour and aroma takes substantial experience, (and the opportunity to see, smell, eat top quality vs mediocre truffles more commonly available).

A grading system that describes indicates actual quality

  • A grade Aromatic,
    • All a truffle should be, fully ripe, aromatic, flavourful = Only available during peak season with proper weather conditions.
    • Survival to full ripeness is lower, as they are more vulnerable to environment and pests
    • It's more labour intensive to monitor a truffle until fully ripe, the market does not support this level of input.
  • B grade Better,
    • Good aroma and flavour.
    • Better than average, a good truffle, a little Before peak season, or peak ripeness,
      or the best a truffle can be when conditions are not ideal, soil, temperature, weather.
    • Early Season A-grade, also can only reach this level, later it's called B
  • C grade Commercial,
    • less aromatic, but still with good flavour
    • could also be a truffle dislodged a little early, accidentally by human or dog,
    • a subjective opinion would be the best of (or better than) the quality to typically reach kitchens that don't buy direct from growers
    • Clearance -it could also be slightly older stock
  • D grade Disappointing,
    • Definitely some flavour, aroma if present will likely Dissipate faster
    • Should still give Decent results when used properly, not simply shaved on top of something.
    • possibly Deliberately harvested with less discrimination for a price sensitive commercial market,
    • or by a grower/dog that doesn't know better,
    • or Discounted because it's older and the aroma is mostly gone...
    • Typical traded quality unfortunately
  • E grade, Economy,
    • Short lived aroma <7days and little flavour. This is worse if it was shipped at start of the week. By the time it reaches a plate, there's likely nothing special about it.
    • Early truffle, taken at first aroma as typical during wild harvests in Europe, where it is necessary to harvest upon discovery. The good truffle gets traded amongst insiders, the rest reaches the market.
    • Export cheap truffle, from the end of May, and throughout season when harvested too early. Some large growers even harvest rows fortnightly! Produced to meet a competitive price point, there's no room for losses incurred during the final weeks of ripening a good truffle.
    • Under-ripe and hard, only really suited to thin cosmetic presentation slices.
    • If you bought a truffle somewhere, and it "didn't work",  even though you used it properly, with heat/fat/salt components, then this quality might well be the reason.
    • An expected result of a price based market demand, where distributors compete with the cheapest deal, rather than offering varying levels of quality/price.
    • Purportedly, truffle like this is often used with "truffle products" such as oil or paste. Quite a few restaurants have a truffle oil aroma in the atmosphere...
      There's even verbal accounts from Europe describing painting slices with truffle oil during plating.
  • G grade, Garnishing
    • Shaving on top of something is all it's good for, Presentation theatrics
    • Garlic type smell, if present, indicates it has been sprinkled with Truffle Oil too.

  • and Industrial grade, anything that's not too soft or rotten often ends up in those truffle products to justify the ingredients list, all artificial aroma based of course.

...and sometimes, like a great vintage year for grapes, or a Special Reserve from a few hand selected vines, there can be;

  • S, SS Grade,
    • A few rare truffles fully ripened under perfect conditions of soil and temperature, oxygen and perhaps just good genetics, they display an extraordinary level of aroma.
    • Most natural products can have a few selected as Special or Supreme, be it gemstones, planks of wood, grapes or truffles.

versus Classification

Anyone can classify truffles, it's no more complex than what size and shape it is.
There is very little that reflects the actual quality of the truffle.

A widely used system in Europe, and adopted by Australian Exporters is the UN Standard for truffle
UNECE STANDARD FFV-53 concerning the marketing and commercial quality control of TRUFFLES  2017 EDITION
A copy can be downloaded at this link UNECE 2017 Standards pdf
Size, shape descriptions which can be done within any grade, with minimal skill. It has little bearing on quality.
Of particular note are the following points;
A. Minimum requirements
  • clean, practically free of any visible foreign matter; the residual soil rate must not exceed 5 % by weight

    (They are often sold unwashed, there can be hidden holes, soft areas, defects are all part of the general parcel. Some say that <70% of a dirt covered parcel is usable, but they still price compare with it.)
B. Maturity requirements
  • The truffles must be sufficiently developed, and display satisfactory maturity and/or ripeness.
  • Class I Truffles in this class must be of good quality. They must be characteristic of the species.
Satisfactory to whom? The reseller that bought using price as the criteria? The executive chef trying to minimise his food budget?
This is where the under-ripe truffle that rapidly loses aroma and never had much flavour is brought to the market. For chef's or consumers who don't know how good a truffle can be.
But this standard has no grading, it's just round, not so round, pieces, with a bit of smell.

Do you want to eat satisfactory or wonderful? What did you pay for?