Q #118: What the hell are truffles (and I don’t mean the chocolate kind)?

I was grabbing some things on my shopping list tonight (I plan to have a cooking, cleaning Christmas this year), and after freezing my butt off in the HUGE produce section, I went to the nearly-as big deli and “cheese shop” area.

Cheese is tricky for me because I’m lactose intolerant, but in moderation I can enjoy a few things. One of my fave snacks ever is regular Triscuit crackers with a thin slice of cheese on them. That’s experimental heaven, there, and very filling. So, I like to try different cheeses once in a while.

I was looking around at what was available and seeing if I could smell ’em when I saw a cheddar cheese (forgot where from) that had a blackish skin around it. Turns out it has truffles in it.

Sheesh, I’ve heard the word “truffles” so often the past few years. It gets a staple mention in any movie where there’s a chef or restaurant as part of the main plot. It’s oil is on the shelves, a little rinky-dink bottle for nearly $10. I’ve heard the word a lot, and the word to me means “cha-ching.”

I swear, as soon as “truffles” is part of the item description, the price jacks up several dollars.

I had to ask the lady behind the counter about truffles, and the cheese with truffles in it. She said it was like a mushroom, but hard to find and very expensive, and considered a delicacy. I didn’t want to hold things up too long (somebody had just come up behind me), and I said that must explain the pricing, or perhaps the label designer had to charge extra because the word “truffle” was in looped, elegant cursive font quite unlike the rest of the label.

Yeah, I can see charging extra for that.

It’s no wonder I think “cha-ching” when I see anything with truffle written on it–it’s nearly always in some fancy script on the packaging, too.

So, what are truffles?

Truffles are fungi. And they’re incredibly hard to find. Unlike the typical mushroom, they have a hard time being cultivated and reproduced in artificial environments. Mushrooms can grow most anywhere moist and dark (and several states have businesses that use old mining tunnels that are in good shape as mushroom farms). Truffles don’t seem to have that luck. They only grow in certain conditions and actually have people hunt them down–many with trained dogs.

Forget coon dogs going hunting–I’m sure the truffle-hunters must be a more lucrative gig, considering the going rate for truffles in many places. NBC had an article around Thanksgiving last year about the truffle that helped me find this out.

What’s funny to me is that if you get a dish with truffles in it, it’s a rather small amount, shaved thin. Apparently, they’re put in lots of pasta and risotto dishes (anyone for the most expensive macaroni and cheese bowl?). Only maybe a few ounces are put in the dish. As I have no idea how dense and heavy these particular items are (never handled or saw one before), I can only guess it’s a small amount.

What seems to get people is the scent, which doesn’t last long. Nobody seems good at describing what they taste like.

I’m a fan of mushrooms, but I don’t think I’d care enough to try truffles myself. And I certainly wouldn’t spend a whole chunk to try and cook them myself. No way.

I guess I just really find it funny that there’s all this fuss about putting something on your plate that grows in shit, a lot like the more mundane, far cheaper cousins that grace many a fast-food swiss cheese burger. Maybe it’s a similar culinary effect to the snobbery and crazy prices people pay for wine, except most of the time the pricing and descriptors are baloney.

Hell, I don’t think I’ve met anybody who has tried truffles before, in any form.

Anybody find out other fun trivia about truffles to share, or did you try some yourself? What were they like?

Floor’s yours…

4 thoughts on “Q #118: What the hell are truffles (and I don’t mean the chocolate kind)?

  1. earlgreykick says:

    I recently attended a Mushroom county fair. Learned a lot about truffles. In some Eastern European countries they are more plenty and thus affordable. I had them sliced in.

    Truffles have a very strong umami/meat flavor – think mushrooms, bacon or cheddar cheese and multiply it a hundred times. Because of the intense flavor and price, people just throw in a shuffle.

    But unfortunately, the markets all over the world are flooded with fake truffles which lack flavor.

    Liked by 1 person

    • TheChattyIntrovert says:

      I wondered about the possibility of fakes, and other than scent, how do you tell before you buy? I’ve got a bit more research to do (forgot about the umami thing–I’m re-learning how to cook good food and try new things, so it’s been a while since i bumped into that word)

      Liked by 1 person

  2. earlgreykick says:

    I’m new to truffles as well. But I think it’s safer to purchase online and have them delivered if the company is well-known. Also, truffle-oils (again, non-fakes) are also good to add flavor to food.

    There is a “fungi-pizza” in authentic Italian restaurants which is pizza with a mix of different wild mushrooms on top and drizzled off with truffle-oil. It is heavy on umami meaty flavor, despite having no meat.

    Like

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