A truffle is the fruiting body of a subterranean Ascomycete fungus, predominantly one of the many species of the genus Tuber. Some of the truffle species are highly prized as food. French gourmand Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin called truffles 'the diamond of the kitchen'. Edible truffles are held in high esteem in French, Georgian, Greek, Italian, Middle Eastern and Spanish cooking, as well as in international haute-cuisine. Truffles are ectomycorrhizal fungi and are therefore usually found in close association with the roots of trees. Spore dispersal is accomplished through fungivores, animals that eat fungi.
The 'white truffle' or 'trifola d'Alba Madonna' (Tuber magnatum) comes from the Langhe and Montferrat areas of the Piedmont region in northern Italy and, most famously, in the countryside around the cities of Alba and Asti; in Italy it can also be found in Molise, Abruzzo, and in the hills around San Miniato, in Tuscany. It is also found on the Istria peninsula, in Croatia in the Motovun forest along the Mirna river, and in Slovenia along the Dragonja and Rizana river, as well as in the Drome area in France.
Growing symbiotically with oak, hazel, poplar and beech and fruiting in autumn, they can reach 12cm (5in) diameter and 500gr, though are usually much smaller. The flesh is pale cream or brown with white marbling. Italian white truffles are very highly esteemed and are the most valuable on the market: The white truffle market in Alba is busiest in the months of October and November when the Fiera del Tartufo (truffle fair) takes place. In 2001, the Tuber magnatum truffles sold for between $1,000–$2,200 per pound ($2,000–$4,500 per kg); as of December 2009 they were being sold at $14,203.50 per kilogram.
In 1999, Giancarlo Zigante and his dog Diana found one of the largest truffles in the world near Buje, Croatia. The truffle weighed 1,31 kilograms (2lb 14oz) and has entered the Guinness Book of Records.
The record price paid for a single white truffle was set in December 2007, when Macau casino owner Stanley Ho paid $330,000 (£165.000) for a specimen weighing 1,5 kilograms (3.3lb), discovered by Luciano Savini and his dog Rocco. One of the largest truffles found in decades, it was unearthed near Pisa, Italy and sold at an auction held simultaneously in Macau, Hong Kong and Florence. This record was then matched on November 27, 2010 when Ho again paid $330,000 for a pair of white truffles, including one weighing nearly a kilogram.
In December 2014, a White Alba's Truffle weighing in at 4.16 pounds or 1,89 kilos was unearthed in the Umbrian region of Italy by the Balestra Family of Sabatino. It was auctioned at Sotheby’s in New York. While some had expected it to sell for $1 million, it was sold for $61,000 to a Taiwanese buyer.
The Tuber magnatum pico white truffle is found mostly in northern and central Italy, while the Tuber borchii, or whitish truffle, is found in Tuscany, Abruzzo, Romagna, Umbria, the Marche and Molise. Neither of these is as aromatic as those from Piedmont, although those from Città di Castello come quite close.
Pigs can be used to find truffles but you need to be careful, otherwise the pig will eat the truffles.
The best way to find truffles is with specially trained dogs. They will just find them without eating them.
What a simple delight: fresh pasta and some fresh white truffles on top.