Black Ops: Truffle Tours

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Courtesy of Truffle Tours

In the Black The Tuber melanosporum can easily fetch over $1,500 a kilo

Last December, a truffle gatherer in France's Rhône Valley was arrested after shooting dead a man he suspected of raiding his truffle groves. That's the kind of frightening passion that one of the world's most expensive foodstuffs can provoke. But hopefully gunfire won't be a feature of the truffle tours organized by Bernard Dugdale. His company specializes in cycle tours in France and Italy, but recently began running trips to the Périgord region of France to share Dugdale's love for the area's "little black gems."

The weekend tours are based around the town of Sarlat-la-Canéda and don't involve cycling. They take place three times a year during truffle season (December to February), although more are planned for next season. If you consider yourself a foodie, then you'll be in your element. The tours enable you to not only hunt for truffles but also to buy, cook with and gorge on the delicacy.

Searching for truffles is undoubtedly the highlight. On a bright, crisp January afternoon we set off expectantly into a truffière (truffle grove) with local guru Edouard Aynaud and watched intently as his two truffle hounds almost immediately sniffed out their quarry — it was a decent size too. The fungus has to be gathered this way, and commands such a premium because it's virtually impossible to cultivate. Its spores are spread by small animals and fruit underground beneath oak, lime and hazel trees when weather and soil conditions are exactly right.

Three types of edible truffle can be found in Périgord, which is home to the sought-after black truffle, Tuber melanosporum — a variety that can fetch up to $1,600 a kilo. Truffles can also be found in Provence, and famously in the Umbria and Piedmont regions of Italy, the latter being where the Tuber magnatum (white truffle) is found. That can sell for an astonishing $14,000 a kilo.

Buying the best black truffle needn't be prohibitive, however. You can pick up a single one at Sarlat market for under $50. Try it with scrambled eggs in the dish known as brouillade aux truffes. Of course, you could try to save money by gathering your own in the wild. But pick your groves carefully. The last person you want to offend is a trufficulteur with a gun.

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