Truffles are one of the world's most highly prized mushrooms. These fungi grow below ground and are known for their scent and flavor. Truffles are primarily a wild mushroom and efforts to cultivate them have met with limited success. They are often used fresh as part of fine dining cuisine and are especially known for their use in French and Italian cuisines.
Color and Size
There are two colors of truffles: white and black. White truffles have a mottled white color on their exterior, with occasional patches of light brown. The interior of a white truffle is ivory to cream colored, although on occasion, they can be light brown with white marbling. Black truffles are also know as the black Périgord truffle because of the region they are traditionally associated with. Black truffles are black to dark brown on the outside, with a pale coffee-colored flesh. Truffles can range from golf ball sized to ones that are almost 4 inches in diameter.
Truffles can grow in a variety of countries around the world, including France, China, the United States and parts of Eastern Europe. Attempts to cultivate truffles has only met with moderate success, and the majority of truffles are still wild. Truffles can only be grown outdoors. Truffles grow in or near oak trees. In the cases of cultivated truffles, the roots of the oak trees are inoculated with the spores, causing truffles to grow in the soil nearby. All truffles grow underground and are found using trained dogs or pigs to detect the scent of the truffles.
Scent and Flavor
The scent and flavor of the truffle is particularly pungent, and after size and color is one of the primary considerations in terms of the value. The scent of the truffle is very distinctive, and fresh truffles will pass on their scent to nearby foodstuffs. For example, truffles that have been stored next to raw eggs in the refrigerator will pass on their scent to the eggs. The flavor of truffles is very rich, and even a little bit added to a dish will pass on the scent of the mushroom.
In addition to the black and white truffles, there are also several other truffle species that are often considered of lower quality than either the black or white truffles. Burgundy truffles are harvested throughout Europe during the fall and the winter. The two harvest periods distinguish burgundy truffles from summer truffles. Chinese truffles are also available though their lesser flavor and scent means they are considered to be inferior in quality. Chinese truffles can be black or white. Last, the Oregon white truffle and the pecan truffle -- which grows by pecan trees -- are two species of truffles that can be found in the United States.