|Desert truffle (Terfezia spp.)|
Truffles are species of mycorrhizal fungi from the type genus (tuber) of the Family Tuberaceae. They are very rare and expensive, some are priced at one thousand dollars a pound -- depending on the species -- while others can be found at more reasonable rates. They are used in the culinary arts and are mainly found in Europe, though some are found in Oregon, California, and Washington. There are only about sixty species of truffles, and only about a dozen of these are used in cooking. Truffles are the only “underground” growing fungi and are related to the mushroom. Truffles have been used as food or in the making of food since the time of the Romans.
The outside of a truffle is usually round or potato-like, with many irregular lumps, and vary in size. Some truffles are only the size of a small walnut, where as others may be as big the fist of a grown man or an apple. Their skin is either smooth, bumpy, or wrinkly. However, it is not the size or shape of the truffle that defines it; but its aroma and taste are what makes it such a delicacy. The aroma is close to that of a male pig, which is why female pigs were used to find them, but pigs will eat anything that is edible, and are hard animals to control. Therefore dogs were trained to sniff out the delectable treats without actually eating them. Though the description of a truffle doesn’t sound very appetizing their taste is much better. The taste of the truffle can vary, depending on the person and the truffle itself. One observer described the taste as “A combination of musk, nuts, and ozone.” However, others are said to taste like garlic or cheese. One person stated that “one would have to eat a great quantity to be able to describe the taste.” The one fact that has been concluded by critics is that the truffle has a sharp and strong flavor to it.
Truffles reproduce asexually, with a male and female spore. After fertilization, they attach themselves to the roots of trees, mainly oaks, about two to fifteen inches below ground. It then takes about seven years for them to grow; often coming up in a circular formation until it eventually forms the “fruit”, or truffle. The truffle gets the nutrients it needs to grow from the carbohydrates in the host tree.
The truffle is used in making food and is also eaten just as it is. It is found mostly in Europe, but can also be found in a few places in North America and the Middle East. In Italy they use a species of truffle known as Tuber magnatum crushed in olive oil, filtered and dispensed into three ounce medicine bottles. It’s odor can penetrate even the shell of an egg! This method is used to make wonderful omelets in French]] and Italian restaurants.
When growing there are a few organisms that it works with, such as the tree which houses it and a insect that likes to lay its eggs above truffles, known as the Suillia fly. Many mushrooms, poisonous and not, may look like truffles, but they are not true truffles. Truffles are not hard to grow, but they are getting harder and harder to find in the wild. Therefore, there are now farms for growing truffles in many places across Europe, such as Spain, Sweden, New Zealand, and Australia.
The Chinese Truffle
Tuber sisensis, also known as the Chinese Truffle, is harvested in China. It looks like its Italian cousin, the Tuber melanosporum, but tastes very dull in contrast and its texture is chewy, rather than soft and melting. However, due to the low price at which they are sold, Chinese Truffles are often exported to trading countries and are mistaken for their Italian cousins. This is a mistake that many people make because the only way to tell the two apart is to taste it, which means you have to buy it. There are also two more species of truffle found in China. The second is the Tuber himalavensis, harvested in the Himalayas, it has an even closer appearance to the Italian Tuber melanosporum than the first. Their appearance is so close that it takes a microscope to tell them apart! However, the taste still does not equal that of the Tuber melanosporum, though it is the most rare of China’s Truffles. The third of China’s Truffles is the most delicious; the Chinese summer white truffle (it doesn’t have a scientific name yet).
- The Italian white truffle is considered, in both taste and smell, superior to the French black truffle.
- In Italy one truffle, the size of a ping-pong ball, is said to have permeated its scent throughout an apartment, causing some people to flee the premises.
- Both Italy and France claim to have the best truffles
- The white truffle is often referred to as the “white diamond” and is considered the most rare.
- Truffles are often confused with the chocolate truffles, which have no relation to fungal truffles.
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