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Thursday, May 7, 2009

[Extracted from]

Truffles are a rare and delicate type of edible mushroom that grow mainly in France, Italy, Croatia and Slovenia; truffles are also collected in the United States in Oregon and Washington. Truffles grow underground among the roots of oak, elm, chestnut, pine and willow trees where they form a symbiotic relationship with their environment. Duplicating these conditions for growing truffles commercially is not feasible or cost-effective on a wide scale, hence their high price.

There are nearly three dozen different types of truffles that range in size from a walnut to an apple, and both Italy and France will claim the best truffles come from their own homelands. Truffles look potato-like, round and irregular with either smooth or wrinkled skin.

Truffle hunting is big business between November and March in France and Italy. Every year at this time trufficulteurs use specially trained dogs to hunt for truffles, usually at night. The trufficulteurs hunt at night so the location of any truffle colonies they find remains a secret. In the past female pigs or sows were used to hunt for truffles, as the pungent odor the truffles emit is similar to that of a male pig. However, the sows were difficult to hold back once the truffle was located and would readily consume the expensive delicacy, and so most hunters turned to dogs.

The taste of a truffle is often compared to garlic blended with an earthiness or pungent mushroomy flavor. They are most often served uncooked, shaved into foods like pasta, salad or omelets. They are also served in light sauces, on fondue or even on pizza.

Of the many varieties of truffles some of the most famous are the Italian white truffle, the French black truffle, the summer black truffle, and the March truffle. The white truffle, often referred to as the white diamond, is considered the most rare and demands the highest price. Truffles in general are among the most expensive foods in the world. Winter black truffles sell for $300-$500 U.S. dollars per pound (.45 kg).

Many species of mushrooms look similar to truffles but are actually poisonous. Never eat a wild mushroom of any kind without the highly educated guidance of an expert on hand that can positively identify the species as edible. The best way to taste a truffle is to order it from a menu.

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