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What the Heck Is A Mushroom Truffle?

Updated on May 10, 2012

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Random Ramblings From Idlewild

Jacques Gerard stealthily moves through the Provence forest as his leashed animal pulls him forward eagerly. Anticipating, Salivating.There is quick and furtive activity. Jacques springs to action and with his walking staff blocks the animal from devouring his prey.

What is is happening here? A diabolical criminal on the run through the forests of France? A wild boar perhaps, destined for the family dinner table? Non. Jacques is hunting the elusive black truffle - revered by gourmets the world over - and his assistant is his trained pig.So much trouble for what is essentially a mushroom covered with dirt.

Animal Farm

Truffles produce a "male pig hormone" scent, so historically, female pigs were trained in the art of truffle tracking. Sort of like hiding Brad Pit in the woods and letting loose a pack of wild females. Pigs - being pigs - tend to pounce on the nugget and devour it with a satisfied snort. These days, dogs are preferred, since they can be trained to hunt truffles and not regard them as fast food. In fact, dogs are not particularly fond of the taste (of truffles, but Brad Pitt is OK), or so we think since no dog has gone on the record to state why they don't like them, preferring instead the lowly dog biscuits given to them as a reward. I mean, if a dog won't eat it?

Rossini the Crybaby
Rossini the Crybaby

Pass the Truffled Turkey, Please.

The fanatical devotion to truffles dates back centuries. Theophrastus mentions them in his writings as early as the 4th century B.C. Not to be outdone, Plutarch, Juvenal, Cicero and Dioscorides all waxed philosophic on the mysterious truffle. During the Renaissance, truffled turkey was considered the finest gustatory delicacy. "I have wept three times in my life." Rossini confessed, who was apparently a crybaby, "Once when my first opera failed. Once again the first time I heard Paganini play the violin. And once when a truffled turkey fell overboard at a boating picnic." I'm surprised he didn't jump in after it.

There's a Place in France...

 

Ranging in size from gumball to misshapen potato, truffles are found under beech, oak, birch, hazelnut, hickories, Douglas fir and pine trees. Once, they were primarily the exclusive domain of Italy, France, and just a few other isolated areas, but now, thanks to cultivation of the spore, they are grown in Spain, Sweden, New Zealand, Australia and the U.K. In 1992, American Frank Garland became the first person to successfully cultivate the black Perigord truffle though many had tried for 100 years (Sorry Italy and France. I guess we win...AGAIN). His truffle nursery has now shipped over 300,000 trees with the truffle spores already attached to the roots. There are now successful farms in N.C., Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky. Furthermore, Oregon black and white truffles are indigenous to the Pacific Northwest and grow abundantly in the forests of Oregon and Washington, good news for foodies. While European truffles can sell for $300 to $2000 per pound, equally good American truffles sell for a fraction of the cost, about $100 to $200 per pound. Still expensive, yes, but worth it if you're a "truffle head.".

I Think I'll Take the Dog For a Walk.

In December 2007, the highest price paid for a single specimen was set by a Macau businessman. Weighing a whopping 3.3 pounds, the truffle was sniffed out near Pisa by Luciano Savini and his dog Rocco, man's best friend if ever there was one. The freakish fungi was auctioned simultaneously in Macao, Hong Kong and Florence and fetched a king's ransom of $333.000. As in 'Uncle Sam Apple Pie' dollars. Now that's some Pisa dough. Too bad Mr. Savini wasn't using a female pig. She might have eaten it, and that would have been hilarious.

What's That Smell?

Many mail-order companies sell both European and American truffles; fresh, frozen, freeze-dried, in a jar and a plethora of truffle products guaranteed to thrill the secret chef in all of us while simultaniously picking your pocket. Black truffles have a strong, earthy, mushroom taste with wood undertones, while white truffles are more subtle, slightly creamy and floral. Smell is a different matter. The aroma has been generously described as resembling deep-fried walnuts, but most describe them as "foul smelling," "like goat urine," and my favorite, "dead mouse trapped behind a wall." The dining elite pay no attention to such criticism, regarding these nescient philistines - these commoners - as spoilspores.

One Chewed Over The Cukoo's Nest

When some poor soul finally succumbs to the mystery and decadent enticement of the almighty truffle, the truffle is shaved raw over steaming buttered pasta, inserted into savory meats or placed under the skins of succulent, roasted fowl. They are orgasmically infused into foie gras, pate' and herb stuffings. Brillat-Savarine - the famous epicure and gastronome, called them the "diamond of the kitchen," and famously said, "Tell me what you eat and I will tell you what you are." Well, friends, with a truffle in your hand and a gleam in your eye, you are a gourmet. Or maybe - just maybe - you're a little goofy in the head, and dogs, the noblest of beasts, know something you don't.

Photo/Illustration Credits

Pigs by demondimum/morguefile; Bulldog by taliesin/morguefile; Rossini by Google; Eiffel Tower by Elpedro/stockxchge; Leaning Tower of Piza by Danielito/morguefile; French Restaurant by melga/stockxchg; Chef by clarita/morguefile.

Truffle Hunting in Tuscany

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    • Isabella Snow profile image

      Isabella Snow 8 years ago

      Very good hub!

    • Christoph Reilly profile image
      Author

      Christoph Reilly 8 years ago from St. Louis

      Thanks, Isabella. I'll always remember you as my first. xxoo.

    • glassvisage profile image

      glassvisage 8 years ago from Northern California

      Truffle dogs and pigs! What an outrageous Hub. The title is great! Makes me want some chocolate...

    • Christoph Reilly profile image
      Author

      Christoph Reilly 8 years ago from St. Louis

      Thanks, glassvisage.

    • Princessa profile image

      Wendy Iturrizaga 8 years ago from France

      I loved this hub, it just put me in the mood for some truffles grated over an omelette... yummy!

    • Christoph Reilly profile image
      Author

      Christoph Reilly 8 years ago from St. Louis

      That sounds delicioso, Princessa. When should I be there? I'll bring the proscuitto & melon and a bottle of champagne - Taittinger Prélude Grands Crus is a joyous blend of finesse and complexity, striking a perfect balance between freshness and aromatic expression. It should match up well with your truffles & omelette. What time should I be there again?

    • Princessa profile image

      Wendy Iturrizaga 8 years ago from France

      mmm... now we are talking... exceptional choice of Champagne its cinnamon notes would be perfect for my omelette.

      What time? apres midi s'il vous plait :)

    • Christoph Reilly profile image
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      Christoph Reilly 8 years ago from St. Louis

      Exellente. Attendez-moi à 2, mon peu crepe!

    • DeniseClarke profile image

      DeniseClarke 8 years ago from Florida

      YIKES! Truffles are an amazing fungi, indeed! I think I would prefer to hunt them with my dog vs. a large female pig ... LOL!

      Great blog!

      Denise

      http://WineFoodPairing.blogspot.com

    • Christoph Reilly profile image
      Author

      Christoph Reilly 8 years ago from St. Louis

      Thanks, Denise! Right back at ya'.

    • Veronica Bright profile image

      Veronica Bright 8 years ago from Nebraska

      Loved it! Your humor seems oddly familiar!

    • Rochelle Frank profile image

      Rochelle Frank 8 years ago from California Gold Country

      Enlightening and entertaining!

    • Christoph Reilly profile image
      Author

      Christoph Reilly 8 years ago from St. Louis

      Thanks Veronica and Rochelle. Don't know why my humor would seem familiar. Maybe you were hunting truffles and got one of those psilocybin jobbies. Thanks for the comments!

    • hot dorkage profile image

      hot dorkage 8 years ago from Oregon, USA

      wowsa! You can write my friend! What a quirky topic. I think the psilocybin jobbies are easier to find, at least you don't have to dig the dirt off 'em.

    • Christoph Reilly profile image
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      Christoph Reilly 8 years ago from St. Louis

      Hot, thanks for the kind words my friend.

    • J D Murrah profile image

      J D Murrah 8 years ago from Refugee from Shoreacres, Texas

      Christoph,

      I enjoyed your hub. It had a human touch without being personal. It is very down to earth and refreshing to read.

      Well Done.

    • Christoph Reilly profile image
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      Christoph Reilly 8 years ago from St. Louis

      Thanks, J D. I appreciate the comment and love the pun!

    • Shadesbreath profile image

      Shadesbreath 8 years ago from California

      Hah, dude, I clicked on this hub expecting some lame ... well, I don't know, something lame about mushrooms, but this was a downright great read, man. Super well done, seriously.

    • Christoph Reilly profile image
      Author

      Christoph Reilly 8 years ago from St. Louis

      Coming from you, Mr. Shadesbreath, that is a high complement indeed. I humbly accept your comment. I enjoy your work as well. Thanks for the note.

    • sixtyorso profile image

      sixtyorso 8 years ago from South Africa

      Great Hub. Most of my truffle experience consists of meals with a smidgeon of shaved truffle. This mysterous addition to the food enhances the flavour immeasureably. In a way much like saffron enhances any seafood casserole dish or soup.

      Le secret ingredient.

    • Jewels profile image

      Jewels 8 years ago from Australia

      I loved my truffle experiences, in Umbria - how lovely. Yumm, I can still smell them. Thanks for bringing back the flavor.

    • Cailin Gallagher profile image

      Cailin Gallagher 8 years ago from New England

      Excellent hub!

    • Christoph Reilly profile image
      Author

      Christoph Reilly 8 years ago from St. Louis

      What have we here? Sixtyorso & Jewels...Truffle heads? I love people who enjoy the finer things in life. Thanks and thanks to Cailin as well. I'd like to thank my mother and father, and special thanks...oh, wait, that's for something else.

    • jim10 profile image

      jim10 8 years ago from ma

      Great info on truffles. I have used truffle oil in some cooking like over pasta and it is great on popcorn. I have never tried grated truffles on anything. But it sounds great.

    • Christoph Reilly profile image
      Author

      Christoph Reilly 8 years ago from St. Louis

      Thanks, Jim10. I'm going to have to get some of that truffle oil. It would be very handy and an economical way to enjoy the flavor and mystique of truffles. No pigs need apply.

    • Veronica Bright profile image

      Veronica Bright 8 years ago from Nebraska

      You learn something every day! Personally, I am not a big fan of mushrooms, but great hub anyway! Love your humor

    • Christoph Reilly profile image
      Author

      Christoph Reilly 8 years ago from St. Louis

      Thanks Veronica! Glad I could bring a smile to your face.

    • robie2 profile image

      Roberta Kyle 8 years ago from Central New Jersey

      This was delightful and you, Christoph, are a breath of fresh air--Merci!

    • Christoph Reilly profile image
      Author

      Christoph Reilly 8 years ago from St. Louis

      Why, Robie2, you flatter me. Keep it up! Merci a vous, madmoiselle!

    • Brainstormer profile image

      Brainstormer 8 years ago from Australia

      ..."water wings" and "spoilspores"?. The king is dead long live Christoph Reilly.

      Your profile is silky smooth, your culinary understanding magnificent, your knowledge of fine wines superb, your rapport with women inspiring. My own words are those of a boorish brute in comparison.

      This Hub? Yeah it was OK too.

      Great read.

    • Lifebydesign profile image

      Lifebydesign 8 years ago from Australia

      Oh what a fun read all the way down! Oh yeh, the hub was tres tres bien too!

    • Christoph Reilly profile image
      Author

      Christoph Reilly 8 years ago from St. Louis

      Brainstormer: Cut & paste, my friend, cut & paste. You have long been an inspiration...non....a hero to us here in Hubpages rookie land. Thanks for the comments.

      Lifebydesign: Thanks for dropping in a sitting a spell. I appreciate your comments. Thanks!

    • Sally's Trove profile image

      Sherri 8 years ago from Southeastern Pennsylvania

      I read this Hub a few days ago, but got distracted from leaving a comment.  So I read it again today.  It was even better (earthier) on the second reading.

      Now, I am among those readers of yours who are well-schooled in truffle procurement and cuisine through what I have read and heard, but have never actually eaten a shaving of one, nor seen one in real life.  Not to mention that my French stinks, after having studied it for one year in college and never used it again since.

      So, thumb is up on a most informative and entertaining Hub.  And kudos to you for commenting to your readers with wit and style.

      Your fan, Sally

    • Christoph Reilly profile image
      Author

      Christoph Reilly 8 years ago from St. Louis

      Thank you Sally. You're no shlub in the writing department either. And thanks for that answering comments with wit and style. I try. Um...let's see...I can't take the pressure! Seriously, though, I am charmed!

    • 02SmithA profile image

      02SmithA 8 years ago from Ohio

      Nice hub on a topic I knew very little about!

    • Christoph Reilly profile image
      Author

      Christoph Reilly 8 years ago from St. Louis

      O2SmithA: Thanks for the comment. That's why I wrote it. I looked it up for my own benefit. Thanks!

    • Randy Behavior profile image

      Randy Behavior 7 years ago from Near the Ocean

      Was this your first hub? I can't tell. Do you like or dislike truffles?

    • Christoph Reilly profile image
      Author

      Christoph Reilly 7 years ago from St. Louis

      It was in the first three, so somewhere in there.  I have never had a truffle, so it's good you can't tell.  I think the cost is silly though.  Thanks, Randy!

    • IslandVoice profile image

      Sylvia Van Velzer 7 years ago from Hawaii

      What a delightful hub! My husband and i love truffles on pizza.

    • Christoph Reilly profile image
      Author

      Christoph Reilly 7 years ago from St. Louis

      IslandVoice: When am I invited over for truffle pizza? I'll do the dishes and bring the wine. Thanks for the comment!

    • Candie V profile image

      Candie V 7 years ago from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure!

      Oh, I just found this one.. must've been before we were fans.. You get the truffles, I'll bring the wine! Who needs Brad Pitt? He's overrated, truffles are not. Many hugs!

    • Christoph Reilly profile image
      Author

      Christoph Reilly 7 years ago from St. Louis

      Candie: Yeah, one of my first ones. Wine sounds good! Thanks for your culinary interest! Hugs.

    • Jewels profile image

      Jewels 7 years ago from Australia

      Ten months now since recalling the truffle aroma. Had to revisit, though I'd forgotten I'd visited in the first place. Is it that the best things in life a rare, otherwise we'd get complacent and they'd not be the best things anymore? Hmmmm, one to ponder.

    • Christoph Reilly profile image
      Author

      Christoph Reilly 7 years ago from St. Louis

      "Too much of a good thing?" There is, I'm sure, a great deal of truth in what you say. Consider the lobster. There was a time when it was so common, that household staff of the wealthy families had it in their contracts that they could not be fed lobster more than twice a week. Or is it more like diamonds? Not rare at all, but because DeBeers has pretty much cornered the market and they decide what gets sold and what doesn't, they set the price. It is an illusion of rarity. Hmmmm. More to ponder.

    • Candie V profile image

      Candie V 7 years ago from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure!

      I like a little bit of everything every so often.. except lima beans - never and should sex ever reenter my life (I'm too choosey) - lots and always!

    • Christoph Reilly profile image
      Author

      Christoph Reilly 7 years ago from St. Louis

      "Everything in moderation" seems to be an OK way to go, and to a degree, even healthful. I like lima beans, but grapefruit makes me gag. Ditto on the sex (not gag - though it can if you're doing it right - but meaning that I agree and identify with your comment.)

    • Candie V profile image

      Candie V 7 years ago from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure!

      Then I shall eat your grapefruit and you can eat my Lima Beans and we'll work on the rest! LOL!!!

    • Christoph Reilly profile image
      Author

      Christoph Reilly 7 years ago from St. Louis

      MMmmmmmm...lima beans. Ha,ha!

    • Candie V profile image

      Candie V 7 years ago from Whereever there's wolves!! And Bikers!! Cummon Flash, We need an adventure!

      MMmmmmm..grapefruit!! *big smile!*

    • pvrust profile image

      pvrust 7 years ago from Carlsbad, Ca

      Christorher, fantastic and sexy way of talking about truffels. I was a chef in San Francisco and worked with a many Truffel loving French Chef's. You are so delicate with your words! Thanks for letting the world know about one of the worlds magnificant treasures.

      Thanks again,

      Gary Rust - Pura Vida!

    • Christoph Reilly profile image
      Author

      Christoph Reilly 7 years ago from St. Louis

      pvrust: Thanks for dropping by and your kind words. Your comment is appreciated!

    • dianacharles profile image

      dianacharles 7 years ago from India

      'This is sort of like hiding Brad Pit in the woods and letting loose a pack of wild females.'

      You do have a way with words and analogies...he he

      Another great hub from you Christoph. :0

    • Christoph Reilly profile image
      Author

      Christoph Reilly 7 years ago from St. Louis

      Thank you, dianacharles. How nice to see you! I hope all is well. Thanks for the comment!

    • profile image

      stevan the black truffle farmer 6 years ago

      A black truffle farm is a great way to make a living. Farming the black truffle was considered snake oil just a few short years ago but it is no longer so.

    • Christoph Reilly profile image
      Author

      Christoph Reilly 6 years ago from St. Louis

      Stevan: I found your site most interesting. Perhaps I'll be in touch as I may want to write about starting a truffle farm. Sort of a promotional thing, on spec. Thanks for the comment.

    • profile image

      jack mehoff 6 years ago

      we are going on a truffle hunt tomorrow in oregon...ill let yall know how we did soon!!! check out updates at ediblemushrooms.org

      d

    • mysterylady 89 profile image

      mysterylady 89 6 years ago from Florida

      This was written with style and grace and your usual humor. I have watched the Barefoot Contessa cook with truffle butter, but I've never had the chance to taste one. Sniff, sniff!

    • Christoph Reilly profile image
      Author

      Christoph Reilly 6 years ago from St. Louis

      Hi Mysterylady. People can be downright fanatical about truffles. I don't know. That's a lot of money to eat. Thanks for the comment (your fan mail cracked me up..."etc. etc." Ha!)

    • mistyhorizon2003 profile image

      Cindy Lawson 6 years ago from Guernsey (Channel Islands)

      I really don't know how I ever missed this fabulously funny hub Christoph, it is brilliant. "dead mouse behind a wall" and "This is sort of like hiding Brad Pit in the woods and letting loose a pack of wild females." both statements cracked me up laughing. Excellent stuff :D

    • Christoph Reilly profile image
      Author

      Christoph Reilly 6 years ago from St. Louis

      Thanks Misty. Glad you got a chance to read it!

    • profile image

      Madeline 5 years ago

      I was just looking up what the heck are truffles besides the sweet chocolate desserts and it's a mushroom. Great article! Never had a mushroom truffle but chefs have orgasms over this stuff. It must have a unique taste and if it's anywhere as powerful as the mighty chocolate I'd probably go nuts over it too.

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