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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 season.
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.
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This page was last updated on 10/30/2017.