What exactly is a truffle and why is it so expensive?
Truffles are the most exciting fungi you can find. They’ve always kind of reminded me of the dragon eggs in Game Of Thrones.
It’s hard to properly describe what they taste like. Truffles are an experience to be had. If you can afford it, that is.
Not all truffles are created equal.
The highest honours are generally claimed by the white truffle from Italy, found near Alba, a city in the northern region of Piemonte.
And the black truffle from France, to be scooped up from the grounds of Périgord, in the southern region of Dordogne.
These little balls of decadence can cost up to $2,500 per pound.
There’s about 6 reasons why they are so expensive.
Truffles are relatively rare, while their interesting taste makes them high in demand.
There are over 200 species of truffle but only a handful are fit for consumption.
The ones that are good to eat, aren’t very easy to cultivate.
Truffles are the fruit of an ectomycorrhizal fungus. That means they can only grow underground, near the roots of trees. With these trees, they have a special relationship. Truffles explore the soil for water and nutrients to pass on to the tree, via its roots. In exchange, the tree provides the truffles with sugars it generates from photosynthesis.
2. They grow slowly, and they’re picky.
It’s not that easy. Truffles aren’t exactly fast growers. And they’re picky too.
They’re sensitive to:
- soil temperature
- soil moisture and irrigation
- plant density
- amount of sunlight striking the ground
- competing fungi
Even in a seemingly truffle-friendly environment, there’s no guarantee you’ll eventually get truffles when you plant the spores. Even then, they can take years to grow big enough.
Cultivation has been especially complicated for the famous Italian white truffle. Adding, of course, to their price tag.
3. Harvesting truffles isn’t exactly a piece of cake.
Truffles that have grown relatively close to the surface, can often be found because of cracks in the soil and their distinctive smell.
However, most truffles are found by dogs or pigs that are specifically trained to find the right ones.
Once a truffle has been found, the farmer has to carefully unearth it to make sure it doesn’t get damaged.
Before farmers started training dogs, they mainly used female pigs to find truffles, because they’re naturally drawn to them. They didn’t need to be trained.
There was however also a downside: they would eat them themselves. And they aren’t very subtle when rooting the soil with their big noses.
4. Not a lot of people know where to find them.
Because of their high value and underground origin, truffles are almost like treasures. And like treasure gatherers, truffle farmers are highly secretive about their harvesting spots.
5. They choose their moments
Truffles have short season, of just a few months. And once harvested, you have to eat them fast: there’s a limited window for when they are fresh and good to eat.
They’re best enjoyed right away because they lose flavour fast.
Half of the aroma dissipates after 4–5 days. After 7 days all the flavour is gone. It’s always a good idea to ask a restaurant whether their truffles are day-fresh. If they’re not, chances are they won’t taste like anything.
In fact, lots of people who say they don’t like truffles or don’t ‘get it’ probably got truffles that had already lost their taste.
6. Climate change
Truffle yields nowadays are much lower than they used to be.
About a century ago, France produced multiple hundreds of tonnes of truffles every year. Today, that number is down to 40 ton per year.
The big problem with a scarce product in high demand: there’s lots of fakes going around.
It’s not uncommon for low-quality Asian truffles to mysteriously end up among the exquisite French ones.
And be wary of truffle oil. The vast majority of them are made from synthetic components, not from real truffles.
It gets uglier.
There’s been a rising number of reports about truffle farms being raided, even truffle dogs being poisoned.
In one occasion, the craze even escalated into murder.
This information was taken from Quora. Click here to view the original post.
Have you ever tasted truffles? What was it like?
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