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Back to Basics: So, what exactly is a truffle?

10 Feb 2014, by Susan Alexander Truffles in Truffle Restaurants

What is a Truffle?

Truffles are often misunderstood as being foreign and difficult to use. But the truth is, truffles are cultivated in North America and considered the diamond of the kitchen. A truffle is the fruit (like an apple to an apple tree) of an underground mushroom. Truffles grow completely underground, often as deep as one foot down. Most truffles have a symbiotic relationship (they rely on each other) with trees and can typically be found near tree roots. Because of their depth and proximity to tangled roots, truffles are often difficult to locate and are traditionally harvested using pigs or trained dogs. Pigs have a natural ability to locate truffles because they are drawn to the smell of a mature truffle; however it is difficult to keep pigs from eating the fruit when they find them. Dogs, on the other hand, are easier to control and don’t typically eat the truffles but they do not have the innate attraction to the aroma and must be trained.

In North America, truffles are often found by raking back the top layer of soil to search for them. When truffles mature, they develop an intense aroma. This aroma, along with the pungent taste, is what makes truffles a culinary delicacy. Truffles are typically served raw, shaved over pasta, salads and eggs. Truffles are also used to infuse oils, cheeses and butters. There are several varieties of edible truffles, but white and black are the most common types used in cooking. If you’re ready to give this “diamond” a try in your own kitchen, check out some of my favorite recipes.

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