What are truffles?
Barbara G., Palmdale, CA Real truffles (not the chocolate candies) are fungi which grow wild, underground near the roots of trees such as the chestnut, hazel and oak. They are so hard to find you need pigs and dogs which have been specially trained to years to root them out. For years people have tried to cultivate them, but with little success. Truffles are unbelievably expensive because they are so hard to harvest, and they are extremely perishable (if the farmer touches the truffles with his hands this will cause the fungus to spoil). The truffle looks like a dusty irregular small rock with a skin tone which varies from off white to almost black. The most desirable truffle with the most aroma is the black truffle; they are used extensively in 3 star French restaurants. Personally I prefer the white truffle from Italy which has a more delicate aroma.
Truffles are hypogeous (underground) versions of mushrooms. They don’t form a prominent stem and their spore-bearing surfaces are enclosed. They rely on animals eating them (mycophagy) to distribute their spores, instead of air currents like mushrooms. Truffles resemble small potatoes, and often between the size of a marble and a golf ball (see the photo gallery). There are hundreds of different kinds of truffles, and while none are known to be poisonous, only a few of them are considered to be delicacies by humans. Truffles (and mushrooms) are only the “fruit” of the fungus (like an apple to an apple tree); the main perennial fungal body exists as a web of filamentous hyphae in the soil. All of the truffle fungi form mycorrhizae with the roots of trees, and are essential to the trees’ ability to acquire nutrients. The belowground fruiting habit of truffles is thought to be an adaptation to forest fires or dry or frosty periods, in which aboveground mushrooms are more vulnerable. Orego