Sniffing (or Scouting) Out Truffles

An unexpected benefit of blogging about food is that friends and clients scout out great fodder for blog posts.  It’s actually one of the things I like most about food writing.  A client-friend emailed me last week when CBS’ 60 Minutes was broadcasting a segment about dogs that sniff out truffles.  My two favorite subjects.  Dogs and food.

Having tuned into CBS around the usual start time only to find one of the playoff games was going into overtime, I had already switched channels when I received Doug’s truffle-dog email.  Just missed the segment.  Thankfully, there’s Internet video.

There were a couple of interesting features of the 60 Minute piece: 1. That organized crime is attempting to leverage itself into the truffle industry; and, 2. That truffle dogs, as very valuable commodities (as a dog adorer, I use that word with great hesitation), are being stolen for their truffle-sniffing abilities.

Duly noted, I actually don’t care to focus on either of those topics, choosing instead to look at the truffle itself.  I have had truffles a few times in small quantities at very high-end restaurants.  Typically, they are showcased as the star of a dish, and rightfully so.

A truffle is a swollen underground fungus, categorized as a tuber.  They’re dense, knobby, and can range from walnut-sized to sizes as large as very large apples.  (60 Minutes reported that a 2# truffle was recently purchased at auction for $330,000.)  The most prized black truffles are found in the Perigord region of France; the Perugia area in Italy is renowned for white truffles.  Truffles emit a musky scent that animals are attracted to and, in fact, like to eat.  Pigs were historically used to root truffles out, but are frequently being replaced with dogs whose olfactory skills lend them perfectly to the task.

More affordable are oils, butters and pastes infused with truffles.  I will admit to having a small bottle of Italian truffle-infused oil in my frig that I drizzle lightly over a very simple risotto, often with nothing more than Parmigiano Reggiano and peas as additions.  Earthy, glorious.

The 60 Minutes piece suggested a polenta recipe in Patricia Wells‘ new book, Simply Truffles, that is super-easy to prepare, should you be inclined to indulge.

Thanks again, Doug, for being a food scout.

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