January 18, 2009

What is a Truffle?

This truffle is not chocolate!

I was ready to write about gardening this morning. However, I was literally so distracted by a story from another garden blogger that I have totally lost my train of thought!

The distraction is the Black Perigord Truffle. This is a culinary delicacy so exquisite and prized that chefs here in the states lock these up in strong boxes or safes in their kitchens. In our dining experience, the chef (or other trusted person), brings a truffle to the table and shaves off thin slices to top the dish.

Rob, at Our French Garden, has wonderful photos and information about the French truffle from his visit to nearby Sarlat for the truffle festival.

Like Rob, I cannot explain the taste of truffles to anyone. All that I can tell you is that after one taste several years ago, I have craved truffles ever since.

My husband and I once went looking for a truffle to purchase locally here in the Chapel Hill area. We found only one, small white truffle priced at $300, and it wasn't fresh. These are so delicate and difficult to import to the states. One truffle goes a long way, but we didn't buy the truffle.

It takes just a little truffle shaving to provide the flavor. I compromise by buying imported truffle-infused oil in a tiny bottle for $30. I drizzle a small amount on top of risotto or pasta as it is served.

As a gardener and a truffle fan, I also researched the idea of growing truffles here in the USA. It turns out that there are truffle farms here in North Carolina. I wrote to Garland Truffles that is located nearby. To grow truffles, one must have the right trees inoculated with the truffle fungus, mycorrhiza. Here in North Carolina, that is the filbert (European or Turkish) and certain oak (Holly-Leaved, Downy or English) trees.

Whenever we travel in Europe, we look for truffle-accented dishes on the menu. In France, the Black Perigord truffe comes from the area around Sarlat in the Dordogne region (Rob's home). In Italy, the White Alba tartufo comes from Langhe area of the Piedmont.

Another gardening, travel, blogging friend, Diana at Creative Structures lives in the Piedmont (Piemonte) region of Italy. After reading Rob's post, I had to leave Diana a question about the white truffle season in the Piedmont. I would gladly volunteer to be a judge in a contest to compare the French and Italian truffles!

It makes me want to fly to the South of France to put myself in the middle of the two truffle regions for the season. Unfortunately, we can't go right now.

However, we have a friend, Lee Spears, will be visiting both France and Italy soon. I've suggested that he look for truffe on the menu in France and tartufo on the menu in Italy.

Lee is a luthier of hammered dulcimers here in North Carolina. Lee is a musician and sound engineer, too. If that's not enough, Lee also makes fabulous desserts! I tried to explain truffles, the fungi, to Lee recently. I hope that he and Sue will have an opportunity to sample these truffles on their vacation.

Bon appetit! Bon appetito!

Story by Freda Cameron
Freelance travel writer. My current fiction writing projects include a completed manuscript and several works in progress.

By the way, my name is pronounced fred-ah, not freed-ah. Thank you.

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