Travel: Are Truffles Really Worth All The Fuss Made About Them?

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ROBERT BONNELL, OUR CORRESPONDENT IN FRANCE, SAYS YES

Editor’s Note: Truffles, those little knobs of fungus, have long been a prized ingredient in French and Italian cooking, and in recent years have begun to appear on more and more high-end American restaurant menus. Are they really worth their high price and do they live up to all the hype?  Robert Bonnell takes us on a visit to a winter truffle market in France, and explains what the fuss is all about. And yes, you read the above photo correctly, those lovely little buggers will cost you 700 € (about $1,000) a kilogram. Robert reports:

The black truffle, tuber melanosporum, is a devilishly expensive fungus which lives underground, associated with the root systems of oaks and several other trees. In France, truffles are harvested from late November until early March and are considered a great delicacy, their unique taste and aroma making them an exalted addition to a variety of dishes.

Commonly associated with the more southerly French regions of Périgord and Provence, black truffles are also found in the southern Loire Valley. Some are still found wild in the woods, but many come from plantations of truffle oaks, grown from seedlings whose roots were infused with truffle spores. But even in the plantations, a truffle hunter needs help to find them. Once performed by pigs, locating truffles is now the work of dogs. (As one purveyor of truffles says, it’s not easy to talk a pig into getting into the car.) At any rate, an effective truffle-hunting dog at work is a wonder to behold.

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