Truffles, Pigs and Feet: A Quick Overview Of This Decadent Fungus
What are Truffles?
Truffle oil, truffle butter, and truffle honey...You might have seen these products at your gourmet food store or your foodie friends’ kitchen shelves but what exactly are truffles?
Briefly, truffles are the fruiting body of an ascomycete fungus that grow underground near tree roots. Most commonly found in France and Italy, they need very specific climate conditions to grow and take about ten years to mature, at which point, they are found by truffle hunters using female pigs or truffle dogs. There are different varieties of truffles but the ones you have probably heard about are black and white truffles. White truffles are the most commercially valuable and are found in Langhe and Montferrat regions in Italy. Black truffles, the second most commercially valuable, are found near oak, cherry, and hazelnut trees. They are harvested in the late fall and winter. In terms of taste and smell, some people might describe them as earthy, mushroom-like, or nutty. To some people, truffles may even smell like feet.
Fun fact: In 2014, the largest white-truffle (4.1 lbs), accompanied by a security guard, was flown to New York and sold for $61,000.
Since truffles are grown underground, truffle seekers have sought the help of those with a keen sense of smell. Traditionally, this was the job of the female pig, as truffles contain a compound similar to a sex pheromone called androstenol, which found in boar saliva. However, the scent of truffles have proven to be too tempting for the pigs as it’s very difficult to extract the truffle before it gets eaten, thereby damaging the truffle beds. So dogs, who also have a keen sense of smell, were trained to hunt truffles. They made much better hunters as the smell of truffles isn’t as tempting as it is to the pigs and could actually be harvested.
Now you can see why truffles are so expensive. Growing them requires the right conditions for long periods of time but even that won't guarantee the desired results. Once they are found, truffles have to be hand extracted. If ever you should get the chance to enjoy real truffles, you should definitely savour every moment.
Truffle oil can be flavoured two ways; first, with real truffles or truffle pieces, which would be steeped in olive oil for a certain amount of time (this is also done as a preservation method, as truffles don’t last long and are best consumed fresh). The second method is to use flavouring with truffles. This is what constitutes most truffle flavoured products.
If you’ve yet to taste the exquisiteness of truffle oil, try our Black Truffle Extra Virgin Olive Oil. Since it’s blended with an extra virgin olive oil, you get the wonderful taste of truffles plus the healthy benefits of an extra virgin olive oil. If you’re looking for some inspiration on what to do with truffle oil, read our article here. Truffle oil is perfect for anything with cheese, bread, pasta, even over your popcorn. We even have Black Truffle salt. It makes the perfect add-on gift for any of your foodie friends.
Daniel Patterson, "Hocus-Pocus, and a Beaker of Truffles".
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