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Truffle is a highly prized fungal fruiting body that develop underground. There are hundreds of species of truffles but the fruiting bodies of some species in the genus Tuber, are prized as a food. The mycelia of truffles forms a symbiotic relationships with the roots of several tree species such as beech, poplar, oak, birch, hornbeam, hazel and pine. Truffles prefer calcareous soils that are neutral or alkaline, and well-drained.
White truffle (Tuber magnatum) or Alba madonna comes from the countryside around the city of Alba and the Piedmont region in northern Italy. It grows symbiotically with oak, hazel, poplar and beech with fruiting happens in autumn. It can grow to 12 cm in diameter and weight 500g, but usually is smaller. The flesh is pale cream or brown with white marbling. The white truffle market in Alba is busiest in the months of October and November. A 1.6 pound white truffle was sold for $150,000 on 8 Nov 2009.
Tuber magnatum pico White truffle is found mostly in the northern and central Italy, while Tuber borchii (Whitish truffle) is found in Tuscany, Romagna, the Marche and Molise. Both of these are not as aromatic as the one from the Piedmont.
Black truffle or Black Perigord truffle (Tuber melanosporum) is named after the Perigord region in France. It grows exclusively with oak tree, with fruiting occurs in late autumn and winter. It can grow to 7 cm in diameter and weigh 100g.
Chinese truffle (Tuber sinensis or Tuber indicum) is a winter black truffle harvested in China. Chinese truffles are often exported to the West as an inferior-quality substitute of Tuber melanosporum, due to their bountiful growth.
Tuber Himalayensis is another type of Chinese truffle which visually looks like Tuber melanosporum that a microscope is needed to differentiate them. It can be found growing in Chinese Himalayas and is harvested in very small quantities due to the high altitude.
Black Summer Truffle (Tuber aestivum/unicinatum) grows in northern Italy, central Europe and UK. It also grows in Turkey and North Africa. Black Summer Truffle grows symbiotically with trees such as oak, hazel and beech, and mainly harvested from June to November. Its size is small, only 4 cm in diameter and weigh 20-30 g.
Truffle hogs and truffle dogs are used to locate truffle as they have keen sense of smells. The female pig's natural truffle seeking and its tendency to eat the truffles once found is due to the compound within the truffle similar to androstenol, the sex pheromone of boar saliva, to which the sow is keenly attracted.
Truffles are normally used sparingly due to their high price and pungent taste. It can also be found commercially as unadulterated fresh produce or preserved in light brine.
White truffles are usually served raw, and shaved over steaming buttered pasta and salads. The flavor of black truffles is reminiscent of fresh earth and mushrooms, and far less pungent and more refined than that of white truffles. Truffle oil is often used as a lower cost and convenient substitute for truffles, to provide flavoring or to enhance the flavor and aroma of truffles in cooking. However most of the truffle oil used in US, does not contain any truffles. The 'fake' truffle oil is olive oil which has been artificially flavored using a synthetic agent.