Truffles are the most exciting fungi you can find. They’ve always kind of reminded me of the dragon eggs in Game Of Thrones.
Truffles are relatively rare, while their interesting taste makes them high in demand.
There are over 200 species of truffle but only a handful are fit for consumption.
The ones that are good to eat, aren’t very easy to cultivate.
Truffles are the fruit of an ectomycorrhizal fungus. That means they can only grow underground, near the roots of trees. With these trees, they have a special relationship. Truffles explore the soil for water and nutrients to pass on to the tree, via its roots. In exchange, the tree provides the truffles with sugars it generates from photosynthesis.
It’s not that easy. Truffles aren’t exactly fast growers. And they’re picky too.
They’re sensitive to:
- soil temperature
- soil moisture and irrigation
- plant density
- amount of sunlight striking the ground
- competing fungi
Even in a seemingly truffle-friendly environment, there’s no guarantee you’ll eventually get truffles when you plant the spores. Even then, they can take years to grow big enough.
Truffles that have grown relatively close to the surface, can often be found because of cracks in the soil and their distinctive smell.
However, most truffles are found by dogs or pigs that are specifically trained to find the right ones.
Once a truffle has been found, the farmer has to carefully unearth it to make sure it doesn’t get damaged.
Before farmers started training dogs, they mainly used female pigs to find truffles, because they’re naturally drawn to them. They didn’t need to be trained.
There was however also a downside: they would eat them themselves. And they aren’t very subtle when rooting the soil with their big noses.
Because of their high value and underground origin, truffles are almost like treasures. And like treasure gatherers, truffle farmers are highly secretive about their harvesting spots.
Truffles have short season, of just a few months. And once harvested, you have to eat them fast: there’s a limited window for when they are fresh and good to eat.
They’re best enjoyed right away because they lose flavour fast.
Half of the aroma dissipates after 4–5 days. After 7 days all the flavour is gone. It’s always a good idea to ask a restaurant whether their truffles are day-fresh. If they’re not, chances are they won’t taste like anything.
In fact, lots of people who say they don’t like truffles or don’t ‘get it’ probably got truffles that had already lost their taste.