They’re the diamonds of the kitchen, the fairy apples of the culinary world and the black pearls of the land. In fact, truffles are so highly prized that prices can reach upwards of $3,500 per kilo. But what makes these hunks of fungus so damn precious?
Here’s some learnin’ for you. Truffles grow in harmony with a host tree, creating a symbiotic relationship whereby the tree takes in phosphorous and the truffle receives sugar that allows it to grow. Truffles grow between two and ten centimetres underground and are connected to their host by tiny spores. Unlike most methods of farming, which have modernised and become all high tech over time, the only way to hunt for truffles is to use a pig, dog or occasionally a goat to snuff them out.
The two main types of truffles are black perigord (mostly found in France) and white truffles (commonly from Italy). While debate about which variety reigns supreme, the white truffles found in Piedmont and throughout northern Italy generally carry the highest market value.
Sooo… What’s the deal with truffles and why are they so bloody expensive?
The short answer is that truffles have always been considered haute cuisine, which is French for fancy fare that you must pay through the nose for.
The long answer is that truffles are extremely hard to cultivate, making them rare and expensive. Most trees inoculated with the truffle fungus don’t yield any actual truffles for at least seven years, if at all. In addition to this, the truffle season is extremely short (usually lasting only two or three months), and most trufferies spend the rest of the year ensuring the conditions are absolutely right for growing. This involves making sure that the irrigation, soil, temperature, and pruning are all perfect. With so much work and no guarantees on any sort of return, truffles are risky business.
Aussie, Aussie, Aussie
Australia has exploded onto the global stage as a quality truffle-growing region over the past decade. Black perigord truffles from WA and Tasmania are not only served on Aussie dinner plates, but in Michelin starred restaurants in Paris, Spain and London.
Where can you get them?
Although training a dog and foraging for truffles sounds like jolly good fun, Melbourne seller Madame Truffles is expanding her commercial empire to a Sydney pop-up this season. For ten weeks beginning June 26th, foodies can pop into her Surry Hills store for a huge range of quality truffles and truffle products (look out for the black truffle ice cream) direct from producers in WA, Tasmania, NSW, and Victoria. This is a store for which sniffing the goods is absolutely welcome and odd sounds of ecstasy are commonplace.
You can also pick up these black beauties at various food markets in Sydney—keep an eye out!
Things you might not know about truffles (from the truffle queen herself, Madame Truffles)
- Australia is now the fourth largest producer of truffles in the world, with 85% of our truffles grown in WA.
- The ancient Greeks believed truffles grew in places where lightning hit damp soil
- Truffles are believed to have started growing underground to avoid forest fires, drought, and chilly temperatures.
- Highly trained pigs and dogs are used to sniff out truffles. These animals must be trained both to identify the pheromone secreted by truffles and taught not to eat the goods once they do find them.
- The pheromone that truffles give off is almost identical to the sex pheromone found in a male pig’s saliva and the underarm sweat of a man. Delish!
- Once described as “vile” by Gordon Ramsay, truffle oil is not actually made from real truffles but a synthetic compound cooked up to resemble its taste and aroma.
- Truffles are proof that money kind of does grow on trees.
Madame Truffles winter store is located at 259 Riley Street, Surry Hills. Hours are Wednesday through Sunday from 9am to 5pm until September 4th.
Image credit: Madame Truffles