espite being small, lumpy and odorous, truffles are the most precious ingredient of the world-renowned Italian cuisine. Especially the white ones, that are currently in season and can be tasted at quite a number of fairs and festivals throughout the country.
But what is a truffle and why is it so precious? Basically, it is a tuberous fungus that grows spontaneously underground close to (and in symbiosis with) the roots of some trees - mostly poplars, oaks, hazels and holm oaks. Its somewhat weird, intense smell is, as is often the case in the natural world, a tool for propagating the species, attracting wild animals that will spread the truffle’s spores by digging into the ground. Truffles only grow in certain areas, are harvested by digging with the help of trained truffle-hunting dogs and, like all mushrooms, need a lot of rain.
That is why their price varies a lot from year to year, depending on the weather; the bad news is, this year white truffles are extremely expensive due to the dramatic summer drought: on November 3, Alba’s renowned white truffle hit the record price of 6,000 euros per kilo.
Why Eat Truffles?
Because of their complex and unique fragrance
, featuring earthy and gaseous hints reminiscent of mushrooms, fermented cheese and garlic (according to the species), truffles have been a precious ingredient of Italian cuisine ever since the Renaissance, a sophisticated touch to enrich timbales, meats and pasta. But they also seem to have some amazing nutritional properties
: poor in fats and rich in magnesium, calcium and potassium, they definitely are a healthy ingredient.
Which Ones Should I Choose?
While there are approximately 60 varieties of truffles, only 6 are actually used for cooking
. The main categories are white and black truffles. The rare Alba white truffle
is harvested starting from the second half of September, whereas the fine (but less rare) black truffle from Norcia
is harvested in December. Black truffles are also harvested from May to August, but summer truffles
are deemed less valuable (and of course they are more affordable).
Where Can I Taste Them?
From Piedmont all the way down to Sicily, depending on the species and season of the year. But since the white truffle season is in full swing
, you should probably take advantage of the many fairs and festivals dedicated to this precious fungus to taste it and buy some.