Truffles: Mushroom-like fungus that grows underground. There are several varieties, the most common being the Italian white truffle and the French black truffle.
Most people know truffles are very expensive even if they don’t know exactly what they are. They cost hundreds of dollars per pound because they require very specific conditions to grow, and there is not yet a widespread and successful method of cultivating them. You basically have to wander forests with truffle-sniffing dogs to find them haha.
At fancy restaurants, they might shave truffles over your pasta or salad in which case you get a very small taste of them, and the taste is that of a strong, earthy mushroom.
Home cooks, use lots of mushrooms instead of a small amount of truffles and get the same taste? Not sure if I believe the hype, but I’m not in a position to do an exhaustive taste test of various truffle dishes, so I really can’t say. Truffle oil is a cheaper (but still expensive) way to get truffle taste as is truffle butter. The oil is usually flavored synthetically and not with actual truffles, but is still widely used and trusted.
“Truffle fries” are becoming semi-common, which are just french fries coated in or cooked with truffle oil. I have had these before, I’d say they taste a little mushroomy? If you’re somewhere they don’t charge extra for this side dish, try it. This is the cheapest way to discover what truffles taste like haha.
And lastly, the question on most people’s minds: what about CHOCOLATE truffles?
Traditional chocolate truffles do not have the hard outer shell and are instead rolled in cocoa powder. As such, they look like lumps of truffle fungus in the dirt. Blah. Least exciting answer I could imagine. To be clear, this is the real answer, I did not imagine it.
Availability: Whole Foods type specialty foods stores will almost definitely have truffle oil and maybe have truffles? I honestly don’t know how I’d go about finding one…
Recipe to try: Roasted New Potatoes with Caramelized Onions and Truffle Oil from Simply Recipes. An easy way to try truffle oil and see if you are on board with the whole thing.