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 V.16 No.49 | December 6 - 12, 2007 

Bite

Über Tubers

Fresh truffles are ridiculously expensive. The ones you're looking at go for $2,000 per pound, approximately $350 each. Why in god’s name would anyone pay so much for something that looks like a blond dirt clod? What do they even taste like, anyway?

"They taste like blood! They taste like sex! They taste like death!" are the actual words of one truffle customer we’ve overheard.

In the height of white truffle season, culinary maniacs the world over break their banks for the chance to shave these weird tuberous fungi over their scrambled eggs, risottos or their oiled, naked bodies. In the States, underhanded truffle peddlers will try to swindle chefs with false truffles from Hungary or Croatia. European truffle hunters will go so far as to poison their competition's truffle-sniffing dogs and hogs to get a competitive edge.

Here's a few demystifying points in the event that you’re confronted with these diamonds in the rough, either on your plate or at your favorite gourmet shop:

• "True" truffles come from two places. Black truffles form Perigord, France, and white truffles from Alba, Italy. There are "false" black truffles cultivated in China, Australia and Oregon, but their perfume and flavor are super mild. False white truffles from Eastern Europe are likewise: weak sauce.

• Truffles aren't mushrooms. They're a fungus that basically grows like a pungent tumor on the roots of oak, beech, hazel and poplar trees.

• The reason for the insane price has to do with the rarity of truffles and the short length of their season. Whites are only harvested from mid-November to mid-December, blacks from mid-December to mid-January. Ain't no shortcuts with truffles. You wait for an entire year and hope the elements have aligned to make these little stinkers. There are also extreme and fixed import tariffs on truffles. Sadly, if your truffles aren't expensive as hell, they probably aren't real.

Truffles are intimidating in price, but if you buy them yourself you'll get to play around with a few dishes instead of spending the same amount of your paycheck on one plate of risotto at a restaurant. If you buy a truffle, keep it wrapped in a paper towel in a sealed plastic bag. Change it every day, and shave it over your favorite dishes ... or yourself.

 
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