Truffles Defined

Eataly black and white truffles. Photo care of Bella Baita B&B View on Flickr.

I'm not a big connoisseur of "fine cooking" or even "fine dining". I like to cook, and I love to eat but we do a lot of it at home but we rarely at anything out of cook books mostly because hubby is not particularly adventurous with food.

I'm not completely sure how it came up today but on the drive to the train, hubby wondered aloud about truffles and how he didn't know what a truffle was. Thinking about it, I'd heard the term before and I know it's an expensive item but I don't know what it is either so I figured I'd try to get to the bottom of the eternal question: what is a truffle?

According to, a truffle is:
are a highly aromatic, yet subtly flavored variety of wild fungus that adds distinction to a wide range of savory dishes. The PĂ©rigord region of France is the source of what are considered the finest black truffles. Fresh truffles are available in late autumn and winter; they are also sold in jars and cans, whole or in pieces. Select firm, plump fresh mushrooms that are not slimy or bruised. Store unwashed and lightly wrapped in paper towels or in a paper bag, never in plastic, in the refrigerator. Peel black truffles before using.

According to an article in the now defunct Restaurants USA magazine, there are summer and winter truffles with the winter truffles being the most difficult and rare and therefore more expensive of the two. According to the article, which was published in 2001, white truffles can cost between $1,000 and $2,200 a pound and black truffles usually run from $300 to $600 a pound with a one-inch truffle weighing about an ounce. That is a mighty expensive mushroom.

It's not surprising these things are hard to find. According to various websites, including this one, truffles are found underground and essentially have to be "dug for".
Truffles are found in the ground, no deeper than 2-15 inches, in small groups often near the base of large trees. In order to find them, truffle harvesters use truffle hogs or more recently, dogs to sniff them out. Grounded truffles give off an odor that mimics a male pig sex hormone and thus, female pigs were traditionally used to sniff them out. However, hogs have a tendency to eat the finds before harvesters can gather them and as a result, more dogs are being used to uncover truffles. Once discovered, truffles can be collected in subsequent years at the same location. Truffle-fields or cultivated truffles are now being grown with some success in areas in Spain, Sweden, New Zealand, Australia, Oregon, North Carolina, Tennessee and the United Kingdom.

Risotto and White Truffles with browned butter. Photo care of oddgirl on Flickr.

It looks like truffles are used in both savory and sweet dishes and I must admit that now, I'm even more interested in trying it at least once. For those willing to shell out the big bucks for this delicacy, be sure to also take a look at the Gourmet Food Store's how to on cooking with truffles.


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