Bank-Breaking Ingredient: Truffles

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How can a dirt-dwelling collection of spores set you back more than your car payment? Here’s what makes truffle shavings cost up to $3,000 per pound

THEY’RE RARE

The divas of the food world, these oddly- shaped wild tubers grow only beneath certain trees—in superspecific weather and soil conditions— and can be harvested for just a few months in the fall. Unlike other kinds of produce, truffles can’t be grown in a greenhouse, and their flavor can’t be synthesized in even the most sophisticated lab.

THEY’RE UNDER GUARD

White truffle season in Piedmont, Italy, runs September to December. During this time, many a territorial trifulau (truffle hunter) hunts by cover of night, often with a Lagotto Romagnolo (aka the “Italian truffle dog”), protecting prime spots from rivals. Pigs, the traditional hunting animals, have a bad habit of eating their hauls.

THEY’RE HYPER-SENSITIVE

After those dogs have picked up the scent trail, the human truffle hunters in Italy use zappini—long-bladed mini hoes—to coax the mushrooms from the dirt. Giving new meaning to the word “touchy,” these fungi can actually start to rot upon contact with homan skin.

…AND IMPATIENT

Once a truffle leaves the ground, its flavor starts to erode. It is possible to freeze and jar them, but most aficionados aren’t crazy about the resulting compromises to flavor and aroma. They prefer paying more to have fresh finds shipped quickly.

—Alexandra Pecci

From the September “Italian Issue” of Every Day with Rachael Ray

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