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Truffles: The most valuable fungus on the planet

Katherine Martinelli is an internationally published food and travel writer and photographer who contributes regularly to publications on three continents. She recently released her first cookbook, Puff Pastry at Brunch: 10 Sweet and Sa...

A humble fungus worth its weight in gold

You may have noticed that anything containing truffles - or even truffle oil - on restaurant menus costs significantly more than their truffle-free counterparts. That’s because truffles (not to be confused with the chocolate confections of the same name) are the most expensive food in the world. A single one can go for thousands of dollars, with the current record at $330,000 paid for an Italian white truffle purchased in 2007.

White truffle

A type of fungus, truffles grow underground near trees and are typically found by truffle-sniffing pigs or dogs. Their high price tag may come as a surprise, but this fungus is in high demand. They are challenging to cultivate and to find, are highly seasonal and are becoming rarer each year. In addition, their high value and demand have fueled a seedy truffle black market, which continues to drive up prices.

Believed to be an aphrodisiac, the appeal of truffles is in their heady aroma. An intoxicating, earthy scent infuses each dish they are served with. The two main types of truffles are white, which typically come from Italy, and black, which are French in origin. White truffles are considered to be more aromatic and fetch a higher rate.

Should you be so lucky as to get your hands on a fresh truffle, a few helpful tips will help you enjoy it to its fullest. Gently wipe away any dirt with a brush or paper towel (do not put under water). Most importantly, cooking with truffles will destroy their aroma - and your investment. Instead, shave them over the finished product for the best effect. The simple pasta recipe below is one great way to savor fresh truffles.

Tagliatelle with truffles recipe

Tagliatelle with truffles

Serves 4

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound tagliatelle
  • 6 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for serving
  • Salt
  • Freshly ground pepper
  • 2 ounces fresh white or black truffle

Directions:

  1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil.
  2. Add the tagliatelle and cook according to package directions until al dente.
  3. Reserve one cup of pasta water and drain the pasta. Return to pot.
  4. Add the butter, Parmesan and a splash of the reserved pasta water and toss to coat.
  5. Season with salt and pepper.
  6. Split the pasta between four shallow bowls.
  7. Grate additional Parmesan on top as desired.
  8. Using a truffle shaver, gently shave truffle over the four bowls. Serve immediately.

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