Truffles… No, not the chocolate kind! The exotic, elusive little pungent nuggets that continue to rein as culinary royalty; the diamonds of fine dining. Aside from their addictive, intoxicating aroma and reputation as the world’s most expensive food, what do you know about truffles? Here’s a few quick facts about truffles that every chef should know:
1. Truffles Are Fungi (Mushrooms)
Truffles are a rare form of subterranean mushroom – there are hundreds of species, although not all are edible. Uncultivated truffles grow approximately 1-4″ underground, along the roots of certain species of trees including oak and hazelnut.
2. Dogs Are Replacing Pigs As Wild Truffle-Hunters
For centuries, female pigs have been used to locate wild truffles – their broad snouts make them the perfect truffle hunters, and the scent given off by the truffles closely resembles a male swine. Unfortunately, most pigs aren’t too thrilled about sharing their bounty – quite often they wind up eating the truffles before their handlers can intervene!
Dogs are now replacing pigs as trained truffle hunters – unlike their predecessors, these canines are quite content to leave the truffles and get a doggy treat instead.
3. Most Truffles Are Now Cultivated
As the forests of Europe shrink and the worldwide demand for truffles grow, producers have now turned to science to help develop commercial truffle farms. Seedling trees are inoculated with fungi and bacteria, then planted in high-density orchards that hold about 500 trees per acre. The first truffles can appear in about 8-10 years, and each orchard can be productive for many decades.
4. Chinese Imitations Are On The Rise
When white truffle prices topped $10,000 a pound, impostors jumped on the fungi bandwagon. Fakes began to flood the marketplace, along with cheaper substitutes coming from China. Chinese truffle look-alikes can sell for as little as $20 a pound; prior to being sold for human consumption, these mushrooms were used by Chinese farmers as pig food.
5. American Farmers Are Growing French Truffles
It’s true! Truffle production has finally arrived in the United States with the establishment of about 200 truffle orchards throughout North Carolina, the Napa Valley, Oregon and Tennessee. The Canadians are getting in on the act too, with a handful of producers in British Columbia also replacing their apple trees with fungi-growing species.
The most common domestic variety is the black Perigord, the traditional French truffle. While it’s too soon to predict supply levels of U.S. truffles, we’re optimistic that our home-grown truffles will help meet the growing demand for truffles!
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