What's it take to be a good truffle hunter?
The principal personality trait required is the ability not to brag about it, because someone will follow you to your patch the next time you go.
And can a good patch be a veritable leprechaun's pot of gold?
Native Oregon truffles are under-priced at about $100 per pound, although they sold for as much as $200 per pound last year. The European black truffles typically sell for about $800 per pound wholesale here in the U.S., and the Italian white truffles are often in the neighborhood of $1500 per pound wholesale. Truffle hunting is a hard life if that's all you do to make a living. It's a bit like prospecting for gold; most people don't make much money and move quickly on to other things. But a few do quite well.
How are truffles different?
The Oregon white truffles have a powerful gassy aroma that goes very well in anything with a cream sauce. The Oregon black truffles have a distinctive tropical fruit aroma often described as pineapple or mango that goes very well in desserts, particularly ice cream. The European black truffle has a musky, but slightly sweet aroma that is famous with omelets. The Italian white truffle is powerfully musky, even a bit raunchy, and is famous simply shaved over pasta.
So how does an aficionado like you eat truffles?
Simple is best; pasta in a cream sauce with shaved white truffles on top.
Robin T. Reid is a regular contributor to Smithsonian.com.