Did you happen to see the recent segment of 60 Minutes which addressed the problems with the French black truffle market? Truffles are perhaps the most expensive food on earth. I did a quick check of the Dean and Deluca website for black truffles. They are selling fresh black truffles for about $250 per ounce. That is a whopping $4,000 a pound!
Unlike most mushrooms, truffles are subterranean fruiting structures. As the fruiting structures mature they emit a strong aroma that is attractive to some animals. The animals then dig them up and consume them. The spores however make the trip through the animal’s digestive system intact and are thus dispersed in fecal material. Truffle hunters often used pigs or trained dogs to find the truffles.
Many people are under the impression that truffles are native to only to the forests of Europe. However, there are over 350 species of truffles native to the Pacific Northwest alone, and a couple species, such as the Oregon white truffle, are highly sought by amateurs and also sold commercially. Here in North Dakota there are likely a few truffle species and their close relatives, but they are not well documented.
Many truffle species form mutually beneficial partnerships with trees. These “mycorrhizal” fungi grow in the soil and into tree roots. In exchange for some sugar, they provide the tree with water and nutrients. Truffles are often associated with species of oak, poplar, hazel, birch, and pine.
Hmmm! Oak and poplar are abundant in some areas of the state such as the Turtle and Killdeer Mountains, and Pembina Hills. But people of our region generally have little interest in foraging for mushrooms, and even less interest in truffles. Plus any major academic effort on truffles in a state is also lacking.
So the status of truffles in North Dakota will likely remain poorly understood until someone starts canvasing the forested areas of the state with pigs or trained dogs, or perhaps a truffle researcher comes to North Dakota. I think I am safe in saying that North Dakota will never rival France or Oregon when it comes to truffle production. But it is interesting to wonder if some truffles might be growing under that old oak tree!
Oh, and there are also those chocolate truffles from Nichole’s – you can get a box of those for Valentine’s Day and support Prairie Public in the Short and Sweet Drive – go to prairiepublic.org.
Natural North Dakota is supported by NDSU Central Grasslands Research Extension Center and Minot State University-Bottineau, and by the members of Prairie Public. Thanks to Sunny 101.9 in Bottineau for their recording services.
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