Truffles are renowned for their exclusivity. They are featured on high-priced menus in the most exclusive restaurants around the world. But what exactly are they, and why are they so expensive?
What are truffles?
The so called ‘diamonds of the kitchen’, truffles are actually a type of fungi with a very distinct, pungent taste. They are so expensive and renowned for the exclusivity because they are so difficult to harvest. They can only be located by their smell. Farmers and truffle-hunters use specially trained dogs or pigs to sniff out the truffles underground, before digging them out and selling them. They can be worth huge amounts of money – a billionaire once spent over $330,000 on a single truffle! There are two types of truffle.
The white truffle is only found in an exclusive area across Italy and Croatia. They have a relationship with the roots of oak, hazel, poplar and beech trees, and bloom in the autumn months. Thus type of truffle is the most difficult to locate, which makes it the most expensive type. In 2010 white truffles retailed at $14,000 a kilogram.
The black truffle can be located in a wider area – predominantly in France, Spain and Italy. They bloom in winter, and grow in areas with hazelnut and oak trees. Though black truffles are less scarce than white truffles, they are still expensive – the going rate is around $5,000 per kilogram.
Supply and demand
Since the world wars in particular, the production of truffles has reduced significantly. This is partly because of the short lifetime of truffle groves, but also because smaller and smaller populations inhabit the sorts of rural areas where truffles can be located. This has meant that many regions which were rich in truffles have become forgotten and overgrown.
The relative scarcity of truffle supply has driven up prices, especially when teamed with an increased demand from a growing army of foodies with adventurous tastes. This truffle renaissance means that production has started to increase, so truffles can now be spotted on many menus and prices are becoming more affordable.
Truffles and cuisine
Truffles are now a popular feature on menus in restaurants around the world. Truffles can often be found grated on top of pasta dishes, for example. They have also made their way into some unexpected types of food and drink – it’s now possible to try truffle oil, truffle ice-cream and truffle vodka, for example!
Finding a market or shop that sells truffles is a challenge – Harrods in London has truffles in its luxury food department, but expect to pay top-end prices. You can now buy truffles online with ease. Both black and white truffles are available, as well as a range of truffle-flavoured produce, including truffle oil, truffle salt and truffle sauce. A smart gift for any foodie, or an impressive addition to any dinner party menu!
Once you’ve bought your truffles, you might be in need of some inspiration. Advice on cooking with truffles can be found online – as can a range of recipes. How does pasta with truffles and parmesan sound? Or truffle and chicken? The options are endless!
Chloe Cotton is the editor of The Happiest Homes. Chloe believes that making good food, especially for guests, is central to making a good, happy home!