Grading vs Class

Truffle Grading

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).
Whereas the widely used Classification system primarily describes shape. Traditionally truffle in Europe is peeled due to sand & grit on the skin, it's easier to peel round, regular shapes, thus the preference.

A grading system that describes 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 in the final weeks of ripening 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 them...
      There's even verbal accounts from Europe describing painting slices with truffle oil during plating.
  • Then there's Pieces and Trim which could be ok,
  • and Industrial grade, anything that's not too soft or rotten often ends up in those truffle products

...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.
    • Generally we also ship these out to our retail customers as A grade if the size suits

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 truffles.
A copy of the latest UN standards can be found at UNECE Standard ffv-53, 2017 edition (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
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?

How does this relate to whats traded in the industry? What are typical market prices? CLICK HERE for Opinion

The above grading is a subjective description as the industry in general does not grade on quality as the main criteria (surprisingly!)
But "satisfactory maturity" is also subjective.

However growers selling direct to customers, generally strive to sell their only their best {especially when their name is associated with the sale}
Half of what is harvested should probably go in a compost bin, it's what's rejected that makes truffle something special.

Lump of fungus... oh look, it's a truffle... oh this is a very nice Truffle... Oh Wow! This Truffle is Incredible! Which would you like to buy?
Yet wholesalers keep telling me, "Consumers don't know and chef's don't care, give me a cheaper price"
-Go Away, you're ruining the market! It's supposed to be something truly special, not a potato!
-and many ask for supply well below production cost, to compete on price with the other resellers, also with junk truffle

A middleman trader who buys on price, may have never seen top quality, or more likely does not care.
A grower that hasn't lost a lot of truffle in the process of determining how to grow their best, likewise won't be in position to judge on quality
(or also may not care, instead producing more truffle, cheaper, to meet the price point dictated by wholesalers -a guaranteed way to go out of business)

The wholesale market seems to work along the lines of;

  • forget S/A/B grades, no reseller pays what it costs to produce that, support a grower regularly and they'll provide you their best.
    • Although on the retail side, I am aware of a single instance of a Melbourne retailer stocking S grade, behind the counter, not on general display, at $4.50/gram
    • The retailer also regularly states he never pays more than $1.20/g, so some poor grower was conned out of his best, yet wasn't rewarded for it.
    • Also his supplying wholesaler.... "You can sell anything at the right price"

Generally though;

  • $1500-$2000/kg for C grade if they had it.
  • $1200-$1700/kg for D grade, some growers don't have better.
  • $600-$1200/kg for E grade, they could/should have better, but ... it's a different business goal/ethic.
    Pay the shareholders...
    Something's better than nothing...
    That's the market, noone cares...
    Pesticides, herbicides, cheap unskilled labour, under-ripe truffle, anything that gets it out there first, or cheaper than the other guy...

C/D/E is then Classifiied into Extra Class, First Class, Second Class, (no class?) it's all the "best truffle" of course! (for the price)

Even if they don't sell by grades, they still have better and worse truffle, guess who gets their best truffles? Larger clients and those paying a higher price perhaps?
Then guess who is first to be told season's over, there's none left... once their harvest begins to dwindle.

For the consumer this can often mean, $600/kg truffle, sold retail at $2.50 or $3.00 per gram, rather than the better grades. The closer to the source, you can purchase, the more reputation will ensure quality. Is it anonymous or linked to the farmer? Which State is a slight indication, some are more volume focused, but not very reliable other than is a retailer/restaurant supporting local.

Overall, not much different than the European market, with EUR$300 Spanish truffle being resold in France/England up to EUR$1000/kg in recent years.
AUD$800-$1200 Export truffle gets retailed in Europe at AUD$3000, though a higher price doesn't improve the quality, and it's likely the grower was paid <$600.
Guess how much effort those growers put into that truffle that's sold below their production cost. {But they likely haven't even calculated their production cost, it's a hobby.}