It's hard to think of another food as ugly and unlikely as the truffle. Yet, as our restaurant writer, Besha Rodell, and wine writer, Arturo Ciompi, explain this week, the pungent fungus' powers extend from the sublime (and aphrodisiac) to the mythic. Since the popular conception of truffles mostly brings to mind stories of French pigs rooting around the forest, little did we know there was a practical consideration, as well.
But Franklin Garland knew. He's spent almost 30 years experimenting in Orange County with the trees and the land and the chemistry needed to produce them, and has concluded that North Carolina could be to truffles what Napa is to wine. And he's long believed it was the perfect replacement for tobacco--a high-priced crop that could support a family on just a few acres of land. Now he has the support of the people dispensing money from the tobacco settlement, and some tobacco farmers are going to find out if a French fungus might, indeed, pay off.
In the meantime, it's not too hard (or even terribly expensive) to get a taste of what all the fuss is about. Truffles have just gone out of season, but there's truffle oil for sale in fancy food shops that can give us a taste. Or, when the black buttons return, we can buy a small one, scramble some eggs or mash some potatoes, pick out a bottle of wine, and see how powerful they really are.
Franklin Garland says North Carolina is perfect for cultivating Perigord truffles. And now the Tobacco Trust Fund is putting up $235,000 for tobacco farmers to find out if it's the cash crop they've been searching for.
By Besha Rodell
Getting the most out of truffles
If North Carolina is to be the next great truffle region of the world, we as good citizens should support this burgeoning industry and eat more truffles. Eggs, rice and potatoes are good ways to start.
By Besha Rodell
Wines to truffle by
If you're going to splurge on truffles, by all means eat it with a wine to match. Wines from vineyards near where they grow are laden with flavors that mirror the truffles' characteristics.
By Arturo Ciompi
Our bi-annual modest guide to eating well in the Triangle