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Truffle - Black; (Tuber melanosporum)
These mainly grow under oak and hazelnut trees in Italy and the Perigord region of France. But certain varieties also grow in the desert, and were treasured as far apart as medieval Baghdad to the tribes of the Kalahari Desert in Botswana.
Truffle "hunters" train dogs and pigs to sniff out these treasures, which individually can be worth more than a thousand pounds sterling (the largest truffle on record was found near Alba in Italy, and weighed over 4 lbs). Very large specimens are rare, however, most truffles found weigh only a few ounces. Recently, pigs have rather fallen out of favour, as they are more possessive, and it can be difficult to part them from their "catch".
Truffles take about forty six days to grow, but their final ripening takes only a few hours. Once ripe they only remain at their best for about 10 days if the earth is wet, up to 30 days if it is dry. After this time the fungus will decompose. If it is picked too early, it will never mature and develop its famous perfume - there is also the danger that the mother root will be damaged and no truffles will grow in that place in future years; so there is great skill involved.
Hazelnut and oak saplings are now available, which have been injected with truffle spores - the sellers claiming a success rate of over 60%; and although they take many years to mature it will be interesting to see if their claims materialise!