You may be more familiar with the chocolate version if you aren’t brushed up on your savoury delicacies, but truffles as in the strong-tasting rarity that grows in the woods is quite the opposite to the sweet treat that takes its name. These fungi grow underground and typically are found at the bases of trees, though they aren’t exactly stumbled upon. These ancient umami clusters are found by trained animals, with truffle hunters choosing dogs or even better pigs to find these hunks of culinary gold out in the woodland. Pigs are experts actually, and although dogs are less likely to scoff down the buried treasure all for themselves, pigs hone in on the distinctive twang that truffles are known for because the smell emulates pig pheromones. That’s right, truffles stink but in a good way. One of the molecules that make up the components of this musky broth is Androstenone which smells like a mix of dirty socks, gym clothes and a dank woody odour. This you may be thinking is not something you would want to eat, but underneath these rather nasty scent profiles is a more primal smell of sweat and sex, which is again not necessarily the first thing you think of as sprinkling on your dinner but is no doubt tantalising to many.
With smells aside, the taste of these fungus sacs is paramount to the most exquisite pleasure – for some. As you may guess by now truffles aren’t for everybody, and you won’t be the first to shy away from the intense and rich flavour (or stench) on your first sampling if you are overcome by the urge to run in the opposite direction. However, those with more ‘refined’ palettes or even those eager to make some cash may be intrigued by the idea of hunting for some woodland gold themselves. Italy is home to the world’s best truffles, and in fact exports millions of pounds worth of the product all over the world annually. You may be thinking that must be a lot of truffles, but you would be wrong. These subterranean ‘shrooms are historically treasured, so much so that the Greeks thought that truffles marked the sights where the Gods themselves had struck lightning down from the heavens. Today they are still idolized, and a decent sized find can sell for hundreds if not thousands. A kilo of white truffle recently sold for thirty thousands Euros which isn’t far off the equivalent in gold. Generations of truffle hunters reside in Tuscany, which is one of the most important locations for truffles in the world. If you are eager to try your hand at discovering these buried treasures, you can find truffle hunting experiences in the area. Experienced hunters will teach you how to locate, extract, prepare and best enjoy truffles. Crunching Italian leaves underfoot, the exciting rush of coming across a prized treat and the satisfaction of delighting in the spoils make for a uniquely different experience in the country. There is nowhere better to hunt the fabled fungus and nobody knows how to enjoy the flavour more than the people here.