It's high truffle season—not the highly prized, exorbitantly priced fungus (that's October through December), but the highly prized, less exorbitantly priced little morsels of cocoa, sugar and cream. Chocolate truffles.
Because you can pick them up at stores all over town, they’re just what Doctor Love ordered for a last-minute Valentine’s gift. Or a belated "I'm sorry I forgot about Valentine's" gift. (It’s harder to stay angry when your mouth’s full of fudge.) But caveat emptor theobroma—chocolate buyer beware. Just because it has “truffle” in its name or comes with a big price tag doesn’t signify it's a quality confection.
Caveat emptor theobroma. Just because it has “truffle” in its name or comes with a big price tag doesn’t signify it's a quality confection.
Alibi Editor Christie Chisholm and new Copy Editor Erin Adair-Hodges joined me in a blind Alibi truffle taste test. There were two requirements: that they be "house brands" (made by or for the establishment that sells them) of “basic model” chocolate truffles. If a plain truffle is good, imagine what sparks might fly with a few extra ingredients.
Two local truffle makers, Enchantment Chocolates and Chocolate Café and Bakery, couldn't figure in to our results because their filled and flavored truffles didn't meet the "no frills" stipulation. We eventually winnowed our chocolate pool down to seven truffle makers, all vying for your Valentine's heart. We were surprised by the results. Three clear winners came out on top for three different reasons.
Like a chic black dress, something this well-made and elegant never goes out of style. Its "compact" and "polished appearance" is offset by a judicious dusting of chocolate flecks. We flipped for what tasted like fresh ingredients, and for the truffle's smooth, double-walled construction—a milk outer, a darker chocolate inner. "This inconspicuous detail lent complexity in taste and structure," Christie observed. "The buttery, caramel-like center dissolved in the mouth almost instantly, [with a] delicate, fading aftertaste. I felt satisfied when finished, but wouldn't have refused a whole box-full." Erin, impressed by how "not overwhelming or showy" these luxurious details were, likened it to "the Matt Damon of truffles."
Without knowing these medium-sized, deep chocolate truffles had been made by the The Candy Lady (aka Debbie Ball, the Mother of Naughty Desserts), Christie pegged it. "This was an interactive experience that embraced all meanings of the word 'sensual.' Downright titillating." Its dark chocolate shell was "obviously handmade with molds, which crafted a pleasantly suggestive sundial," and had notes of softened Amaretto, vanilla and spice. Biting into it was a pleasure—like a lover in a romance novel, it resisted coyly but only fleetingly. Ultimately, it succumbed to a rich, fudge brownie-like center that "suggests cake without being cake" to Erin. These "generous" levels engaged Erin's attention like George Clooney. Place these truffles on pillows for a memorable turndown service.
"Wine me, dine me," Trader Joe’s nude, European-style truffles coo. There's no chocolate coating on these French babies—only "redolent" cocoa powder that braces the tongue with a satin-gloved slap. Don't be frightened. The pungent bolt is gone as quickly as it comes on. "Once you're there, the texture is like how silk would taste," Christie wrote, "and the insinuative flavors keep you coming back." Buttery and complex, Erin thought this truffle "begs for wine, a fireplace and possibly a camel ride" with smoky foreign actor Omar Sharif. Pair it with something better than TJ's Three Buck Chuck.
$7.05 for four truffles
When stripped of its big name in our blind tasting, this "standard-bearer" of chocolates was, well, pretty standard, but still beautiful to behold. The aroma was "like Easter chocolate: confection-y, sucrose-laden, unremarkable," said Christie. "Still, the taste was agreeable if not memorable, and the truffle benefited from tiny pieces of what looked like toffee mixed in the center."
$4.49 for a box of 27 truffles
Like the Trader Joe's truffle, this supermarket brand is also organic and a product of France. We found the taste to be simpler and sweeter than the other European truffle we tried, with a smooth texture that crumbled slightly toward the end. "Not as dangerous—someone my mom would say [about], "Oh, I love him!" Erin wrote. Kind of like Antonio Banderas to TJ's Sharif.
$8.34 for four truffles
These truffles are oversized and uncomplicated, almost like a candy bar. "The shell looks unfortunately like a Milky Way bar on bottom, and the smell and taste isn't much different. Wait--did someone wad a Milky Way into a ball and call it a truffle?" wondered Christie. "The experience wasn't offensive, but I felt guilty eating it--an indulgence that wasn't worth the cost, financially or physically." If you're going for an impressively large treat, this is it.
$5 for a box of 12 truffles
Of the grocery store house-brands, this was the most expensive. It was also the most disappointing of the whole lot. "Looks like a turd rolled around on the forest floor," Christie deadpanned. "For decoration, it was rolled in monochromatic chocolate flakes, but the result was unsettling." It tasted like eating a stick of butter—in all the wrong ways. Erin concluded, "If I lived in a village where everyone had to make truffles, but I was boring and lazy, I would make this truffle."
The price of truffles bought at grocery stores do not include sales tax.