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The call of the not-so-wild

(article, Caroline Cummins)

Every fall, the same story pops up on newswires: The truffle is disappearing. 

The latest, from the Associated Press, announces this year's new low in wild-truffle harvests in Europe, and salivates over the concomitant high prices for the knobby little orbs: hundreds of dollars for just a few ounces of white truffles, or up to 70 percent more costly than last year. 

What the AP story doesn't mention is the fact that, as the smelly truffle has been steadily overharvested in recent decades, enterprising fungi farmers have been attempting to cultivate their own. Just a glance at the New York Times' truffle topic list reveals several articles about truffle cultivation, and one story in particular — "Cultivating a Mystique," by Jane Black — reveals the dirt-clogged truth: "80 to 90 percent of French truffles are now cultivated." 

So much for the idea that your truffle was scented by a dog or a pig and carefully dug by hand on a foggy morning in southern France, northern Italy, or mountainous Spain. Truffle devotees are inoculating their forests with truffle spores not just there but in New Zealand, North Carolina, and Oregon, among other places.

And keep in mind that truffle oil exudes that earthy redolence thanks to the lab, not real truffles. Better living through chemistry.