A truffle is the fruiting body of a subterranean mushroom; spore dispersal is accomplished through fungivores, animals that eat fungi. Almost all truffles are ectomycorrhizal and are therefore usually found in close association with trees.
There are hundreds of species of truffles. The fruiting body of some (mostly in the genus Tuber) are highly prized as a food: Brillat-Savarin called them "the diamond of the kitchen". Edible truffles are held in high esteem in French, Spanish, northern Italian and Greek cooking, as well as in international haute cuisine.
White truffle washed and cut
The "white truffle" or "Alba madonna" (Tuber magnatum) comes from the Langhe and Montferrat areas of the Piedmont region in northern Italy and, most famously, in the countryside around the cities of Alba and Asti; in Italy it can also be found in Molise and in the hills around San Miniato, in Tuscany. It is also found in Croatia, on the Istria peninsula in the Motovun forest alongside Mirna river. Growing symbiotically with oak, hazel, poplar and beech and fruiting in autumn, they can reach 12 cm diameter and 500 g, though are usually much smaller. The flesh is pale cream or brown with white marbling. Italian white truffles are very highly esteemed (illustration, left) and are the most valuable on the market: The white truffle market in Alba is busiest in the months of October and November when the Fiera del Tartufo (truffle fair) takes place. In 2001, the Tuber magnatum truffles sold for between 1000–2200 USD per pound (2000–4500 USD per kg); as of December 2009 they were being sold at 14,203.50 USD per kilogram.
Giancarlo Zigante and his dog Diana found one of the largest truffles in the world near Buje, Croatia. The truffle weighed 1.31 kilograms (2 lb 14 oz) and has entered the Guinness Book of Records.
The record price paid for a single white truffle was set in December 2007, when Macau casino owner Stanley Ho paid 330,000 USD (£165,000) for a specimen weighing 1.5 kilograms (3.3 lb), discovered by Luciano Savini and his dog Rocco. 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. This record was then matched on November 27, 2010 when Ho again paid 330,000 USD for a pair of white truffles, including one weighing nearly a kilogram.
The Tuber magnatum pico white truffle is found mostly in northern and central Italy, while the Tuber borchii, or whitish truffle, is found in Tuscany, Romagna, Umbria, the Marche and Molise. Neither of these is as aromatic as those from Piedmont, although those from Città di Castello come quite close.