Sadly, this is not a white truffle. Not even close.
Our guide told me the name of the above species of mushroom, but I don’t remember it. I do, however, remember the English slang translation: “Wolf Fart”. No joke. He said this mushroom got the name from the unpleasant odor and slight explosion that happens when you handle the mushroom. Thankfully I did not pick up the mushroom before I received this information.
Piemonte is known for white truffles. The season begins in September and reaches its peak mid to late November. The White Truffle Festival is held in Alba each fall, and I’m sure it’s a wonderful event to attend.
Truffles grow under the ground and are not visible to the eye. Therefore, dogs are trained to find truffles. There is a “University” for dogs in Alba where they undergo months of training before actually hunting truffles. Small dogs are better than big dogs because it’s very important to create only a small hole where the truffle lives. If the dog digs a large hole, there is a risk that the ecosystem which creates the perfect growing environment will be destroyed (and thus ruin the spot for future truffles).
Hmmmm...perhaps Chance should spend some time at the University.
Truffle hunting is done at night for two reasons:
1. The dog has less distractions at night (fewer noises, less people around, etc.)
2. You must keep your truffle spot secret. Spots are “first come first serve” so people are pretty secretive about their locations. Truffles grow in the same spot each year, so this is particularly important.
Truffle hunting is a lot like fishing. It’s as much about skill and location as it is about luck and legend. Our guide told us that old men sit around and compare truffle stories from years past. Much like fishing stories, each year the size of the truffle gets larger and larger.
I would love to come back to Piemonte during truffle season. Sadly, white truffles do not have a shelf life. For the best flavor they need to be used within one week of being found. It is not recommended to freeze them or dry them. People from this area laugh at the idea of truffle oil because it is so inferior to the real thing. So, unfortunately, we did not get to have any truffles during our trip (good reason to come back though).
Truffles are priced by weight. The price is approximately 4.5 Euros per gram which translates to about $2,000 per pound. The price varies per season – if it’s been a particularly dry year, the cost goes up. When you are at a restaurant and order shaved truffle on your pasta, they weigh the truffle before they shave it and then after they shave it so you know exactly how much you’re in for. If you haven’t already lost interest, read this news story about the mushroom below.
Hong Kong Tycoon (aka crazy man) Pays $160,406 for Italian Truffle. Seriously.
If you happen to run into a truffle in your backyard, call me!! Here is a recipe for a simple pasta with Parmesan cheese and shaved truffles. I want to make this one day. Must win the lotto first!