Friends! Janelle and I are just back from a day on Salt Spring Island. While we could wow you with tales of the “potato on a stick” we discovered at the market, we’re here to talk truffles… and I don’t mean the chocolate kind. Here’s 5 things you should know about this delicacy:

  • A truffle is a rare, edible mushroom that is considered a delicacy in many parts of the world. Requiring climates with mild weather changes, truffles grow in a limited number of places including France, Italy, Croatia, and in the US in states like Oregon and Washington. They grow approximately one foot underground among the roots of oak, elm, chestnut, pine, and willow trees where they form a symbiotic relationship with the environment.
  • Truffles are harvested in Europe with the aid of female pigs or truffle dogs, which are able to detect the strong smell of mature truffles underneath the surface of the ground. The female pig becomes excited when she sniffs a chemical that is similar to the male swine sex attractant. Sexy.
  • Ann 18th-century French gastronome called truffles “the diamond of the kitchen”. (Janelle and I couldn’t agree more!)
  • And, like diamonds, they are worth more than their weight in gold: The record price paid for a single white truffle was set in December 2007, when Macau casino owner Stanley Ho paid US$330,000 (£165,000) for a specimen weighing 1.5 kilograms. One of the largest truffles found in decades, it was unearthed near Pisa and sold at an auction held simultaneously in Macau, Hong Kong and Florence. As of December 2009, black truffles were sold between 1,000€ per kilo in a farmer’s market and 3,490€ per kilo in a retail shop.
  • Too rich for your blood? 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. Most of the “truffle oil” used in the US however, does not contain any truffles. The vast majority is olive oil which has been artificially flavored using a synthetic agent such as 2,4-dithiapentane. [Eeeewww.]

I did my best to consume truffles today –and like the Iron Chef, in a number of ways. For lunch we had truffle spiked sausage, and Salt Spring Island Goat Cheese Co. chevre with a truffle topper. Both were delicious, and consumed on fresh rosemary bread and with a gentle topping of caramelized onions. (No, Janelle and I don’t go 1/2 way with our picnics!). In particular the early goodness of the truffles in the young goat cheese was a hit with both of us.

Over dinner at Brasserie l’ecole, my sister ordered a 8oz steak (topped with Gorgonzola butter) and accompanied by “fancy fries” – fries tossed in Parmesan, truffle oil and parsley.  Seriously yummy with a nice glass of red.