What are truffles?
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Truffles, one of the rarest and most expensive foods, is a intensely aromatic, subtly flavored wild fungus (in the family Tuberaceae) that grows underground near the roots of trees, usually oak. Legend has it that they are the result of witch’s spittle. They are difficult to find, and are routed out by animals, such as pigs and dogs, that have been specially trained. The truffle’s appearance is round, gnarled, and irregularly shaped. The Perigord region of France is the source of what are considered the finest black truffles.
There are dozens of varieties of truffles, the most prized is the black truffle; the most popular – the Italian white truffle (tartufo bianco) from Alba. Paper thin shavings (cut with a microtome) showered on hot pasta is considered a transporting experience by many a gourmand. The French (Lyonnaise) classic poulet demi deuil, is a Bresse chicken with thinnest slices of truffle inserted under the skin so that it resembles a mourning veil (or half mourning as the title suggests). Fresh truffle season is late autumn and early winter; they are also sold in jars and cans, whole or in pieces. There are restaurants, not surprisingly in Paris (and elsewhere in France), that specialize in truffles. La Maison de la Truffe 33 Boulevard Haussmann (Galerie Lafayette, ground floor) offering truffles and almost everything made with them, and an almost all-truffle menu (including cheesecake) at their 19 Place de Madeleine restaurant.
Truffle oil is olive (or other oil) oil pungently flavored with truffles, and used to flavor pastas, meats, risotto, or bruschetta (as well as some inappropriate applications). Many commercially produced oils are artificially flavored, unpleasant, and overused.
Truffle is also the name given to rich, creamy chocolate balls dusted with cocoa to resemble the fungus of the same name.