Over 100 varieties of truffles
The truffle is a species of mushroom that grows underground, in symbiosis with a "truffle tree," like the oak, hazel, pine or lime tree. To grow, it therefore needs the interdependence of three elements: the soil, the climate and the host tree. There are not just one, two, or three varieties of truffles—there are more than a hundred! Only a dozen varieties reveal a real culinary interest, starting with the Périgord black truffle, also called "tuber melanosporum," which is eaten during the holidays. A rarer species, much appreciated by gourmets, is the white truffle, called "tuber magnatum," which grows at the foot of certain truffle trees, like the hazel.
France, the world champion of truffles
France currently has nearly 20,000 truffle farmers. This country produces almost 30% of world production, making it one of the largest producers of truffles in the world. The largest truffle area is in the Southeast, mainly Drôme, Vaucluse and the Alpes-de-Haute-Provence, though those of the Southwest, particularly Périgord, are the most well-known. They are also found in Occitanie as well as in Charente, Burgundy, Lorraine and Champagne-Ardenne.
The "black diamond" truffle
Known as the "black diamond," this famous truffle has always been clouded in mystery, especially regarding its life cycle. After a fast growth at the end of the 19th century, truffle cultivation dropped by the 1970s. The cause: the two World Wars, but also intensive farming. If truffles are so expensive today, it is because they have not reached the previous production rate. Climate change could also be one of the explanations.
Sniffing out truffles
But then where and how are truffles collected? There are truffle patches, but you can also go "wild." Trained since birth, truffle dogs are major allies to collect truffles. Used to locating them thanks to their sense of smell, they tell their masters where to dig so that they can find the precious mushroom.
Truffle hunting pigs
In some regions, dogs are replaced by truffle pigs. Unlike dogs, pigs don't need to be trained. They detect truffles by their smell when they are very ripe, and therefore of better quality. The hard part is preventing them from munching on the truffles once they detect them! Truffle flies can also be a good indicator of the presence of these fungi—they usually lay their eggs right next to the mushrooms.
Full of vitamins!
It is not a necessarily well-known fact, but truffles are very low in calories. They are mainly made of water and dietary fiber. These black beauties are rich in potassium as well as vitamins A, D and K, which are beneficial for the functioning of our body, contributing to bone health, eye health and the protection of our immune system.
And on the plate?
Did you know? The truffle is very sensitive to heat: cooking it makes the mushroom lose its incredible aroma! Therefore, it is strongly advised that you add it at the last minute to your dish, for example, grated. Conversely, some products can actually enhance its taste. This is particularly the case with potatoes, pasta or even eggs. Combining it with foie gras or in sweet and savory dishes is also a delicious marriage. For a touch of originality, you can mix truffles with desserts such as sabayon, ice cream, pears or, like the three-star Chef Pierre Gagnaire does, with lychee, coconut milk and some lime zest.
A luxury product
Depending on the species of truffle and the volume of production, the price of truffles varies from year to year. In the largest truffle markets in France, the price is fixed. To give you an idea, in specialized markets in the Southwest you can generally find black truffles around €800 (about $884) per kilo (a little over two pounds). However, in specialized stores in major cities, it will cost you between €1,000 ($1,100) and €1,200 ($1,327) per kilo. As for the white truffle, it can climb up to €4,500 ($4976) per kilo depending on the year. The summer truffle, for its part, is the most accessible one, at €300 ($331) per kilo.