In 2007, approximately 3 feet underground in Alba, Italy, treasure was found -- two white truffles weighing a combined 3 pounds. These truffles sold at market for more than $330,000, and a pig found them. A truffle pig is a domesticated pig, used to find truffles as much as 3 feet underground. Truffle hounds are also used, but traditionalists believe that hogs are more effective since they have a natural ability to root around in the moist ground. Of course, hogs also consume more of the spoils than do dogs.
What Is a Truffle?
A truffle is a part of a fungus that grows in its natural habitat under moist ground. The ascoma is the fruiting portion of the fungus. Black is the most common color for a truffle, but many believe white is the most valuable and sought after. Throughout the world, truffles come in many different colors, however, what is common to all is the aromatic and appetizing smell and taste. For many years truffles were used as a delicacy in cooking, even in Roman and Greek times.
Pig Versus Dog
Purists among truffle hunters favor the pig's sense of smell and digging-oriented nose. Because the truffle's scent mimics that of sexual arousal to male pigs, female pigs are frequently used to hunt truffle. In the last hundred years, dogs have come into favor for truffle hunting. There are several reasons for this --- dogs are not sexually excited by fungus, they can be transported more easily, and since truffle hunting can cover a vast amount of land in a hunt, dogs move much more quickly than pigs. Dogs also have absolutely no interest in eating the truffles.
Where Truffles Thrive
Truffles develop best in France, Spain, Italy and the Pacific Northwest. Some parts of the U.S. are attempting to import truffles as an industry. Like wine, the first consideration is the soil --- its richness, pH balance and moisture content. If the land and environment are suitable, then advanced fungi spores can be injected underground and the fungus may fruit and the truffle may then be harvested.
A Truffle by Any Other Name
There are many different types of truffles that sell anywhere from $800 per pound to $100,000 per pound. Again, like wine grapes, truffle value may be perceived as a result of where the truffle grew. Certainly, there is a perception that the U.S. grown truffle does not have the horticulturally accepted lineage for high-market value, while many truffle aficionados believe the Alba truffle has the best taste. In the end, truffle value comes down to preference and perception.
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