There aren’t many chances to sample truffles around here. When you see them on the menu you better jump at the opportunity. I recently had some stellar truffle mashed potatoes at Restaurant R’evolution in New Orleans (more on that later) and thought it might be a good idea to attempt to educate the less familiar on what a truffle is and why they are outrageously expensive and maybe provide some ideas for their use.

So what’s a truffle?

The best way to think of a truffle is to imagine a subterranean mushroom. They can get pretty big, maybe the size of a fist and they grow in a symbiotic relationship with a tree’s root system. These tubers are pretty firm and very hard to find.

The most common method for locating truffles is with the use of specially trained hogs. The aromatic fungi have an odor that is not dissimilar to the pheromones in the saliva of male hogs. Female hogs in a loving mood are keen to the scent, undetectable for humans since they grow a foot or so below the soil.

But there is a problem. When the pigs start to root around it isn’t easy to keep the old gals from eating them once they hit the jackpot. For that reason certain breeds of small dogs are being trained to sniff out the delicacy.

Black truffles from France are commonplace in the high-end truffle world. Also known as the Perigord, this version is of course black on the outside but a little paler and veiny from the cross section view. These can range from very small to very large, maxing out at a couple of pounds.

White truffles from Italy are referred to as Piedmont truffles. These usually grow as large as one pound, but more rare than their French counterparts. These have a much more powerful aroma and a little will go a long way. By far the most expensive, Piedmonts are the gold standard of the truffle world.

We Americans can boast of an infant truffle market that is gaining popularity and even getting the thumbs up by the likes of James Beard. Oregon truffles compare favorably to the Italian whites and are far less expensive (only $150 per pound compared to $450). These were originally discovered in California and grow hand in hand with the Douglas Fir.

Oregon truffles require rodents and other wildlife to dig them up, consume them, and scatter the seeds in order for the species to continue. Ah, the circle of life. They are considered a viable substitution for their European cousins and could possibly help settle the market a bit.

An infinite number of uses

Nobody is sitting around getting full off of truffles. You are paying for an aroma, not a piece of flesh. There are even truffle slicers that shave these babies paper thin for adding that extra zip to a dish. Sprinkling raw bits atop a glorious recipe is a great way to not waste this fungal gold.

Infusion is a good way to ensure longevity. Truffle oil neither comes from truffles nor contains truffle parts other than the aroma. Flavoring quality olive oil is one of the more popular ways to get the most out of the glorified mushroom.

Softening them up in a bouillabaisse, placing slices under the skin of your favorite fowl, in pate, in omelets, don’t let me stop you. The truffle is the quickest way to church up anything.

The spark that started it all

If you have not visited Restaurant R’evolution I suggest you make a reservation right now. Located in the bottom of New Orleans’ Royal Sonesta on the Bienville side, this gem is the combined forces of John Folse and Rick Tramonto. It’s nothing shy of amazing.

A recent brunch had me almost in tears with poached eggs over boudin with pork cracklins, the best barbecue shrimp and grits I have ever had the pleasure of sampling, and the previously mentioned truffle mashed potatoes.

Start with a ramekin full of the creamiest, finest mashed potatoes with the perfect amount of salt. Add to that truffles sliced so thinly you would swear it’s the garlic guy from Goodfellas. How simple is that?

It was the first thing I tasted, and it was breathtaking. It was also my least favorite thing on the table, if that tells you how fantastic everything else was.

I get to eat well in Mobile on a regular basis and we do have some amazing restaurants. But it is a rare occasion that most anyone gets to experience something as high-end as Restaurant R’evolution. New Orleans has never hurt for fine dining. If these guys can’t rule the city they can at least rule the rest of the world.

I found it was a great place to sink my teeth into, and not surprising considering the credentials. I have other favorites – some old, some new – scattered across the Big Easy. This one is just my latest. I’m sure most of you have favorites over there, too.

But wherever you go, here, there, anywhere, if you have the opportunity, get the truffles.