A single whiff of a truffle can be nearly intoxicating. Depending on the variety, the inhaler might detect notes of garlic, fried cheese and gym socks (white truffles) or pineapple and banana (a young Oregon black). And one person sniffing may find those aromas enticing, while another might not understand the fuss.
Those fragrances, and the allure of the fungi that produce them, left James Beard Award-winning food writer Rowan Jacobsen (A Geography of Oysters) drunk on truffles and determined to learn all he could. Jacobsen spent two years traversing the globe in pursuit of not only truffles but also the stories of people who hunt and sell them.
The result is Truffle Hound: On the Trail of the World’s Most Seductive Scent, With Dreamers, Schemers, and Some Extraordinary Dogs, an engaging work that blends history with travel and food writing. Jacobsen follows his nose and curiosity across Europe and back to North America, while considering studies that extend even farther. He meets hunters and farmers whose livelihoods depend on the elusive tubers, and along the way he challenges truffle myths. For example, they grow far outside of the Mediterranean region that’s most often credited for them.
Jacobsen delves into the sometimes twisting history of this food, as well as into the science that makes truffle farming possible. Even as he examines the fungi’s complex history and analyzes questions about who gets access to truffles, Jacobsen’s writing remains accessible, unlike the costly object of his desire.
Truffle Hound is a compelling story, but Jacobsen doesn’t leave readers empty-handed when the tale ends. The book also includes a glossary of truffle types, resources for acquiring your own truffles and recipes for after the decadent fungi arrives. It’s an appropriate finish to a delicious book.