Britains damp climate is not always loved, but for truffle growers and hunters it is a boon as it allows the Tuber aestivuma, or Burgundy truffle, to flourish. This subterranean offering has been known to man as a foodstuff since pre-Classical times, although only during the last century has it been understood that truffles are a form of fungus.
During the 19th and early 20th centuries, truffle hunting in the wild was very popular in Britain; records show ten foragers in the Wiltshire village of Winterslow alone, for instance.
Pigs were once the main truffle hunters but they were difficult to separate from their finds, so by the time Alfred Collins, Winterslows last truffle hunter, retired in 1930, dogs, which are more reliable, were being used.
Truffle Tours, in December and January
Expressions, from the end of September
Truffle hunting declined after the Second World War but it is now a major commercial operation in the Vaucluse region of south-eastern France. Attracted by the heady scent of the ripe fungi, the dog will begin digging to reveal the black diamonds beneath the surface.
Carpentra in Provence, where our photographs were taken, is famous for its winter truffle market, where the best truffles sell in seconds. Heavily scented and very expensive, the Périgord truffle is usually at its best in January.
The price of fresh truffles varies considerably but expect to pay a minimum of £25 for an ounce of black summer truffles. In October 2012, the price for white truffles in the market at Alba in Italy was set at the equivalent of £3,000 per kilogram.
Before cooking with truffles, brush them carefully, rinse and dry them. Due to their cost and intense taste, they are best used in small slivers with flavour-absorbent foods such as eggs, potato, rice, pasta and cream. Summer truffles are also delicious with asparagus and winter ones with scallops.
Elizabeth David recommended spreading white truffles on bread and butter, while Rose Gray and Ruth Rogers of the River Café grated shavings of white truffles onto tagliatelle or polenta tossed with butter and Parmesan, and over risotto made with red onion, chicken stock, vermouth and double cream.
Anna del Conte mixes black truffles with anchovy fillets and garlic as a sauce for spaghetti; she also stuffs trout with them. You could also slip black truffles between the breasts and over the legs of chicken, to marinate for several hours before roasting.
Store truffles with eggs and rice (to absorb any excess moisture), in a well-sealed jar for three days; the process will infuse the eggs with flavour.
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