“Can You Really Get Truffles From Mexico?” by MDC

The answer is yes! You definitely can get truffles from Mexico, but they are not the ones that you might expect!

In the U.S., Corn Smut is considered a pest as it feeds off the corn plant and decreases the yield. Usually the smut-infected crops are destroyed, however in Mexico Corn Smut is called Huitlacoche a word meaning raven’s excrement. Despite its grotesque etymology, it is considered to be a delicacy and is preserved and sold for a higher price than corn. As for its culinary use, the galls are harvested while still immature, gathered two to three weeks after an ear of corn is infected retaining their moisture. When cooked the Huitlacoche, have a  mushroom-like flavor, with tones of sweet, savory, woody, and earthy.

This interesting fungus has had difficulty entering into the American and European diets as most farmers see it as a problem that they have to deal with, despite attempts by government and high profile chefs. In the mid-1990s, due to demand created by high-end restaurants, Pennsylvania and Florida farms were allowed by the USDA to intentionally infect corn with Huitlacoche. Most observers consider the program to have had little impact, although the initiative is still in progress. Either way, the show of interest is significant because the USDA has spent a considerable amount of time and money trying to eradicate Huitlacoche in the United States. In 1989 the James Beard Foundation held a high-profile Huitlacoche dinner trying to get Americans to eat more of it by renaming it the Mexican truffle.

Since the Mexican Truffle called Huitlacoche literally means ravens excrement, its a bit of a surprise to me why anyone would want to eat such a foul sounding thing. However, its true that people do consume some pretty nasty cheeses, molds, and fungi in many different forms all over the world, so naturally there are some who crave the Huitlacoche’s earthy qualities. It’s something new to me and when I saw that Chef Maximo Tejada of Rayuela restaurant where I work in NYC was using it in his Vieras Con Huitlacoche, I was extremely excited to try this rare fungus for myself. Tejada is a master of balancing the flavors in each of his dishes and this dish is no exception. The smokey notes from the grilled Vieras which are sitting atop an earthy Pablano-White Truffle sauce and paired with a saute of Valencia rice and the meaty Huitlacoche is an amazing symphony for the palate. If you are an adventurous eater and are ever hungry on the Lower East Side I suggest that you stop by 165 Allen St. and try this tasty magic mushroom!

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