a special variety of edible mushrooms
that grow underground among the roots of oak,
elm, chestnut, pine, and willow trees
Looking somewhat like an
irregular potato, a truffle can be as small as a
walnut or as large as an apple.
Of the three dozen or so
varieties of truffles, most are found in France,
Italy, Croatia and Slovenia. Some lesser-known
varieties can also be found in the United States,
principally in Oregon and Washington.
Because truffles form a
symbiotic relationship with their "host
trees" and surrounding environment, it is
virtually impossible to raise them commercially.
Instead, trufficulteurs (truffle
hunters) must use specially trained dogs to hunt
for truffles in the wild. Since truffles only
have flavor just as the spores are ready to be
dispersed, the timing has to be perfect. Dogs are
used because they can be trained to detect the
very distinct smell given off by the truffles.
[Female pigs (sows) were once used to sniff out
truffles, but since pigs have a habit of eating
just about anything edible, it became more
prudent to train dogs for the task, since a dog
is usually happy to get a "good boy"
and/or a treat for his work.] Once found, the
truffles are usually gathered by carefully raking
away the covering soil and then
"picking" the best specimens. If enough
of the "root" is left behind the
truffles will replenish themselves and be
available for "picking" the next
Because the best truffles have
to be sought out and gathered by hand, and
because they have to harvested at just the right
time, truffles rank amongst the world's most
expensive foods. Since their characteristic
flavor begins to fade almost immediately after
harvest they must be used right away. They are
almost always eaten raw, since cooking takes most
of the taste away.
genus and species Tuber spp.
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