Truffles are a type of subterranean mushroom found in Europe, Asia, North Africa, and North America but only a few species are commercially valuable. Truffle season falls between September and May and their fruiting bodies grow underground near the roots of specific trees. It takes around seven years for truffles to grow and a truffle-bearing tree will only produce for around 15 to 30 years. Truffles are irregular in shape and they range from a size of a walnut to that of a man’s fist.
The well-known and expensive species of truffles include the French black truffle from the Périgord region of southwest France used to make pâté de foie gras, and the rare white truffle of Alba from the Piedmont district of Italy. Due to its rarity, truffles can cost anywhere from $250 to $2,000 a pound! It is especially true of the white truffle which is only found in that particular district in Italy and can’t be cultivated anywhere else.
Truffles are harvested in Europe, foraged by female pigs or truffle dogs. They are able to smell the mature truffles in the ground, and the pigs get especially excited because the smell resembles that of the male pig’s sex attractant. These days, dogs are trained to sniff out and dig up truffles because unlike the pig, dogs will not automatically try to devour the expensive mushroom.
A luxurious delicacy, truffles are meant to be eaten fresh and uncooked shortly after they are harvested as their flavor will decrease rapidly over time. They are grated onto dishes such as veal, chicken, omelettes, and pasta right before they are served.