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Our favorites: black Périgord truffles, Tuber Melanosporum Vitt. Photo courtesy Caviar Russe.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

 

KAREN HOCHMAN is Editorial Director of THE NIBBLE.

 

 

December 2006
Last Updated November 2013

Product Reviews / Main Nibbles / Vegetables

Truffle Mushroom NOT

Page 2: Great Truffles Or Not So Great Truffles,
They Are Not Mushrooms!

 

The truffle is a member of the fungus family, but is a very distant cousin to the mushroom. As you can see below, they diverge at the Division level—as far away as it can get. Mushrooms grow above the ground. They are fungi that have stems, caps and gills under the caps. Truffles have no stems, caps or gills; they grow in irregularly-shaped lumps underground, attached to the roots of trees. The truffle taxonomy is:

Truffles

Example: Black Périgord Truffle

Mushrooms

Example: Common White Mushroom

  • Kingdom: Fungi
  • Division: Ascomycota
  • Subphylum: Pezizomycotina
  • Class: Pezizomycetes
  • Order: Pezizales
  • Family: Tuberaceae
  • Genus: Tuber
  • Species: T. melanosporum Vitt
  • Kingdom: Fungi
  • Division: Basidiomycota
  • Subphylum: N/A
  • Class: Agaricomycetes
  • Order: Agaricales
  • Family: Agaricaceae
  • Genus: Agaricus
  • Species: A. bisporus

For more about mushrooms, head to our Mushroom Glossary. This is Page 2 of a 12-page article. Click on the black links below to visit other pages.

 

Great Truffles, Not So Great Truffles

The world’s finest truffles grow in France, Italy and Spain. The black truffles of Périgord are considered to be the best in the world due to their intense flavor and aroma (white truffle fans will argue this point), although the white truffles of Italy’s Piedmont region are even scarcer and thus far more costly. Truffles grow in temperate, moist climates throughout the world: They like warm, dry summers, cool, wet winters and alkaline (limestone) soil. China, Africa, New Zealand and Oregon have wild truffles, but they lack the aroma and flavor of the top varieties from France, Spain and Italy. In fact, more than half of the world’s varieties of truffle grow in Europe, but only five or so have savory qualities that command attention.

Man has been known to enjoy truffles for at least 2,500 years (the Romans cooked them and ate them with honey, although in the Middle Ages they were regarded as poisonous and only regained their status over the last few hundred years). People have tried for generations to cultivate the great truffles with no success in duplicating them, although they are getting closer. As science advances, current attempts include inoculating tree roots with Tuber Melanosporum, the Périgord truffle organism. While this method does produce edible truffles, they are not of the quality of Périgord truffles. It may be a function of more carefully matching up the exact climate and soil to that of the Périgord region.† Whoever finds the magic formula will be up to his or her elbows in “black diamonds.”

†A truffle grower in Chucky, Tennessee, Tom Michaels, feels he has achieved that, and top chefs such as Daniel Boulud and Thomas Keller are excited by the truffles (Michaels’ truffles are currently selling for $800 a pound).

  Perigord Truffle
A cross-section (called the glebe) of the glorious Périgord truffle.

The top four sought-after varieties of fresh truffles are sky-high to begin with. The prices vary widely among varieties (from sky-high to astronomical), and from one year to the next, depending on the size of the harvests. Typically, the Melanosporum, the top black truffle, may cost five times more than the Brumale, Uncinatum or Aestivum—currently $1,000 to $2,100 a pound. The Magnatum white truffle is the costliest: It can be four times more expensive than the Melanosporum.

Truffle Scams

A big problem is that as more and more people of means discover the pleasures of truffles, demand increases—but each year, fewer and fewer truffles are harvested. The crop in Périgord is estimated to be 25% of what it was a century ago. As a result, products are misrepresented: In France, agricultural agencies conduct lab analyses of black truffles to ensure they are legitimate French products and not inferior Chinese or Spanish black truffles that have been soaked in truffle juice to enhance their aroma. Lesser white truffles from other areas of Italy show up at the famed Alba market, attempting to pass as the great White Piedmont (or Magnatum or Alba) truffle, the world’s costliest truffle. (The Alba White Truffle Market is the only one where every truffle is tested to guarantee quality and type.) More pallid-tasting summer truffles are passed off to the unknowing as winter truffles. As with caviar (or anything else), if you don’t know what you’re buying, it’s easy to be duped...and the unknowing then wonder why they’ve just spent a small fortune on something that tastes no better than a supermarket mushroom.

Continue To Page 3: Buying Truffles

Go To The Article Index Above

 

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