What Are Truffles?
Truffles are rare edible fungus that grows underground, usually at the base of certain types of trees. Similar to mushrooms, truffles can look a bit like potatoes. They feature a distinctive aroma and taste that chefs around the world crave. Unlike most other types of food, they can’t really be planted or grown commercially. They only grow in certain areas under very specific conditions.
In fact, they usually only grow when partnered with certain trees, including oak, hazel, poplar, beech, and pine trees. The tree roots provide needed sugars to help them grow and, in return, they provide certain nutrients to the tree. Today, most truffles are harvested in the wild from areas in France, Italy, China, and Croatia, although some areas of the Pacific Northwest in the United States have produced truffles, too.
As if they weren’t rare enough to begin with, they can be hard to find since they tend to grow a foot or more underground, their pungent aroma can only be sniffed out by specially-trained pigs and dogs. Pigs happen to love them, so truffle hunters using pigs must be quick to grab truffles before the pigs can eat them. For this reason, many truffle hunters now prefer to use dogs, since they don’t seem to care for them all that much.
There are several different types of truffles. The French black, or Périgord, truffle can be found in southwestern France. It is known for its aroma and can weigh two pounds or more. The Italian white, or Piedmont, truffle can be found in northwestern Italy and is extremely rare. It has the strongest aroma of all truffles and can weigh as much as one pound.
Chefs who love truffles usually shave or slice them raw over dishes, including pastas, rice, salads, eggs, and meats. They can also be infused into sauces, soups, cheese, butters, and oils. Because they are so rare, yet so sought after by the world’s chefs, they can be extremely expensive. The cheapest truffles can cost $100 or more per pound. And those white Piedmont truffles from Italy? Those rare fungi can command prices of several thousand dollars per pound!