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It's the best time of the year! No, I'm not talking about the holidays but rather white truffle season. Beginning in mid-September and running through January, it's prime time in Italy for the rare white truffle to be harvested. It's such a momentous event that there's an entire festival happening in Alba celebrating the delicacy.
While you can celebrate yourself by ordering truffle focused dishes at restaurants across the country, we thought it would be good to know a little more about the fancy fungus by chatting with an expert. Here, Eataly's VP of Global Partnerships Dino Borri reveals five things you didn't know about truffles. (Fun fact: customers can buy white truffles at cost on November 27 at all stores; December 22 at NYC Flatiron, Chicago, and LA; Monday, December 23, NYC Downtown and Boston; and Friday, December 27 in Las Vegas.)
Truffles Cannot Be Planted
The reason truffles are so pricey is because there is no way to mass-produce them. "Truffles cannot be planted, tamed, or cultivated, so each variety is only available a few months out of the year," Borri told Departures. "Truffles grow in the ground close to the roots of specific plants—il nocciolo, il tiglio, il carpino, il pioppo. "The best white truffles can be found in the hills of Langhe of Piemonte, and around the town of Alba."
Only a Trained Dog Can Find Truffles
A trained dog is the only animal that can hunt for truffles (although many people think truffle hunting is a pig's job). "There are actually schools to train the dogs on how to hunt for truffles, and the most famous one is in Piemonte," said Borri. "The dogs and truffle hunters usually hunt for truffles during the night and early in the morning to avoid noise. They can also find and hunt in rare and secret places."
There Are Actually Three Types of Truffles
Most people think there are only two types of truffles: white and black. But, there are three varieties. "The white variety is pungent with notes of shallot, the black is earthy and robust, and burgundy tends toward the delicate and aromatic," revealed Borri. A professor classified these three types in the 18th century.
The Romans Were Fascinated By Truffles Too
"Ancient Romans believed that the truffle was created when lightning struck damp earth," said Borri. "Now, we know that the small tuber grows underground in the wild forests of northern and central Italy in the woods, meadows, and mountains of Umbria and Tuscany."
How to Choose the Right Truffle
To choose the best truffle, you need to use three senses—touch, vision, and smell. "To touch, the truffle should be hard like wood," said Borri. "If it is soft and has a sponge-like feeling, it means that the truffle is not good. The truffle should look like a little bumpy potato. The smell has to be pungent."