I’ve never really thought much about truffles.

They just didn’t seem to be a good fit for any of our restaurants…a little too expensive for our polished-casual formats…to fussy, too dainty and picky-picky for a brawny steakhouse like MANNY’S.

Not that I wasn’t keenly aware of fancy fungi. But truffles are typically associated with precious,, meticulous, Michelin-category restaurants – and I’m just not that into food prepared with tweezers.

Yet there’s no denying truffles’ allure. The taste can be magical, and they certainly elevate the occasion.

Now, truffles can grow in only a few places on the planet – forested environments with the right kinds of trees…places with a distinct climate and the perfect composition of soil…and just the right amount of rainfall.

The two preponderant places for harvesting truffles are both in Europe – one in northern Italy, around the community of Alba, the other in Perigord, in southwest France. WHITE TRUFFLES come from the Alba region. They’re extremely elusive. They cannot be cultivated or farmed. And the prices can be astronomical (I’m reminded of a now-defunct NYC restaurant, I believe it was the Quilted Giraffe, that offered a single white-truffle ravioli for $38 – back in the ‘80s!!!). The (relatively) humbler BLACK TRUFFLES of Perigord – home to two-thirds of the world’s known supply – have recently been farmed with some success.

Black or white – which is better? There is no best truffle. They’re just different.  Black and white truffles are both nutty and earthy. The black ones are a little more aggressive and pair well with robust cuts of roasted red meats. Their albino brethren are softer, fragile, and more subtle, and pair well with risotto and delicate pastas. They also evoke a heightened sense of elegance and luxury (maybe because of the price difference). They should never be cooked, only slightly warmed.

BTW, how expensive are truffles? Black truffles can cost anywhere from $300 to $800 per pound (according to my 2021 statistics). White truffles can cost $4,000 per pound.

The cost, as you’d imagine, reflects truffles’ rarity and the difficulty of finding them. Unlike more common mushrooms, they grow only in certain spots, unseen, beneath the surface. For hundreds of years, the solution for hunters has been to use truffle hounds, which are specially trained to locate the elusive underground tuber (yes, tuber, a category of fungi that includes several species of truffles. Potatoes, of course, are also called tubers because they grow underground, though they’re not even in the same kingdom as truffles. But I digress.)

The other principal truffle foragers are female pigs, which have an exceptional sense of smell. They’re often family pets and can command a price of up to $10,000. The problem with pigs is that the only thing keener than their sense of smell is their appetite. They’re known to root up the soil and gobble up their quarry right on the spot.

Perigord and Alba have thriving truffle markets on Saturdays in the fall and early winter. They attract professional buyers, enthusiasts, amateur cooks, the gourmet and the curious.

Speaking of demand for truffles, Joanne and I just returned from a two-week dining binge in London. Some of the restaurants were sorta fancy, most were casual but smart. One thing we noticed that was different from our other visits: the explosion of truffle offerings on the menus.

I’m not certain why. We’ve traveled to London in the fall for the past several years, and in our experience truffles were found regularly only at high-end restaurants, not the more casual ones we visited this time around. And while somewhat expensive, the truffle-bearing dishes we had were not breathtakingly expensive.

What had changed from years past? I asked some chefs and restaurant managers. For one thing, they reminded me that everyone wants truffles early in the season – and we were early.  But then again, we’re always early. I wondered, was there a “bumper crop” this year? Was the quality of this year’s hunt lower than usual, depressing prices to a point where less-fancy restaurants could feature them?

It was also suggested to me that right now Londoners have a “passion for the past” – the same passion that has restored farmstead cheeses, heirloom tomatoes and backyard chickens to Europe’s tables and sparked a renewed interest in foraged foods like truffles.

I didn’t overthink it.   I just enjoyed (well, reveled in) it. For breakfast we devoured dishes like soft-scrambled Buford brown eggs with black truffles. One dinner featured Pappardelle with a grating of black truffles and Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese. Another night we savored risotto redolent with white truffles. Top-shelf tubers also found their way onto two burger offerings, one with paper-thin sliced black truffles, another slathered with truffle mayonnaise. Oh yes, we also had a truffle pizza.

OK…so what is the bottom line for those of us stateside? Given that fresh truffles are hard to source, expensive and have a very short shelf-life (about 4 days ‘til they start to lose their flavor), what are we do to?

Well, in lieu of fresh, you can buy black truffles in olive oil. They are slightly rubbery, but boast good truffle flavor. Also, truffle oil is readily available. (Some chefs despise it, but I find that it gives a burst of pleasure to pasta dishes). And then there is truffle mayo, truffle aioli, truffle butter, truffle honey and even truffle mustard.  You’ll get along just fine.

Now, some of you may be wondering about the truffle-hunting pigs. Why are they all female?

You see, underground truffles emit a musk-like scent reminiscent of boar genitalia. They’re aphrodisiacs that trigger a…social response in the fairer sex.

And that’s perhaps why female pigs are good truffle hunters. THEY’RE HORNY.




  • November 11, 2023 at 7:36 pm

    Phil very interesting thank you for explaining truffles
    wish I had some to cook and eat!!

  • November 14, 2023 at 1:21 am

    Ahh truffles – I remember the days at Pronto when we could get some truffles in and they were expensive back then! Thanks for sharing!

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