My actual introduction to a truffle occurred at The Modern in New York City. I had ordered the tasting menu, and one of the courses was risotto. For an extra $40 I could have sliced white truffle added at the table. Always keeping the words of wisdom from a Schlitz Beer commercial, “You only go around once in life,” I decided to go for it. The combination of the risotto and the white truffle was one of the most fabulous foods I’ve ever tasted.
Prior to this I knew very little about truffles. But now I’m armed with only two facts: they are expensive and they taste great). I decided to do some research.
The first information that caught my attention was the record price for a 3.3 lb. white truffle as $330,000. My whole life I have always been on the look out for secondary sources of income. I thought this might have possibilities.
French gourmet Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin called truffles “the diamond of the kitchen,” and like diamonds can command high dollars. The best truffles come from Europe, but truffles are found in the United States. White truffles can go for between $1000 – $2000 per pound. The more common black truffle can bring $250-$350 per pound. This piqued my interest.
First of all, according to the literature, truffles can be cultivated, but it is not that easy, and seldom done. They are usually hunted with the aid of a truffle-hunting animal. If you don’t have one, keep in mind that squirrels and chipmunks love truffles as much as we do. If you see evidence of digging under certain varieties of trees, you might find truffles nearby near the trees roots.
They grow underground so you will have to dig for them. After digging, try to replace the forest floor as you had found it. It is much like a golfer replacing his divot.
Popular host trees are Douglas firs, pines, and hemlocks. Don’t waste your time on maples and cedars. And if you decide to hunt for truffles with the aid of an animal, you have two choices: a truffle dog or a truffle hog.
Each has a keen sense of smell, but I think a dog would be my choice. The best breed seems to be the Lagotto Romagnolo. They are a pleasant dog of average size. They are easy to train and to control, but they are expensive (as much as $2500). It was also noted that most any breed could be trained.
I also think walking behind a dog is a classier way to hunt. It’s hard to look good walking behind a pig. And then there is always the question of what to wear.
The truffle hog perhaps has a better and more natural seeking ability to sniff out truffles. The down side is the difficulty in training a hog. You can’t shame a hog, while a dog responds to a scolding. A hog will basically ignore this approach.
Also, hogs have a tendency to eat the truffles once found. And they oftentimes don’t willingly give up the found truffle. I don’t relish the thought of having a tug of war with a hog over a truffle. This is why dogs are much more popular.
How do you know you have a truffle? Smell it. It should have an earthy smell with garlicky overtones. When adding truffles to a dish, it not only adds a taste dimension but is also
enhances other ingredients. The aftertaste is also distinctive.
How can you enjoy the taste of truffles without mortgaging your home? Buy either truffle salt or truffle oil from a company called FungusAmongUs. Yes. That’s the name of the company. You can find it on Amazon.com. It’s not that expensive, and culinary-wise, this will really up your game.