Here Comes Truffle

This episode, join us on a hunt for buried treasure at a super-secret location in North Carolina. We follow a million-dollar dog wearing adorable slippers, and then get down on our knees, butts in the air and noses in the dirt, on the trail of a fungus that drives both pigs and people wild. The smell's been described many different ways—cheesy, earthy, garlicky, even sweaty—but there’s only one thing in nature that can make it: truffles. So, how did this knobbly, brown, potato-shaped fungus come to be one of the world's most expensive foods—and is there any science behind its reputation as an aphrodisiac? Listen in this episode as we get down and dirty hunting truffles, exposing truffle fraud, and getting the scoop on one of the world's oldest and most equal partnerships. Just what you wanted for Valentine’s Day!

A sliced bianchetto truffle, freshly dug from the dirt at Burwell Farms in North Carolina. Photo by Nicola Twilley.

Episode Notes

Jeffrey Coker, Richard Franks, WC Paynter & David Crow

Jeffrey Coker is the president of Burwell Farms, in North Carolina—the first commercial orchard specializing in bianchetto truffles and the largest truffle producer in North America. Richard Franks is the farm's chief scientific officer. WC Paynter is the farm's manager (and best friend to Laddie the dog), and David Crow is a farm assistant.

Left, the orderly rows of truffle-inoculated pines at Burwell Farms; right, WC, David, and Laddie in pursuit of truffles. Photos by Nicola Twilley.

Cynthia does her best impression of a truffle dog to get a sniff of the truffle, buried beneath the dirt but still fragrant. Photo by Nicola Twilley.

Left, truffle mycelia (the small white Y-shaped threads) growing on the roots of a baby pine tree; right, chief scientific officer Richard Franks in Burwell Farms' greenhouse. Photos by Nicola Twilley.

Eugenia Bone

Eugenia Bone is a food and science writer and the author of several books on mushrooms, including Mycophilia: Revelations from the Weird World of Mushrooms. She is also a faculty member at the New York Botanical Garden, where she teaches classes on mycophagy (mushroom consumption) and psychedelic mushrooms.

Zachary Nowak

Zachary Nowak is the author of Truffle: A Global History, as well as the director of The Umbra Institute and an instructor at the Harvard University Extension School.

The most delicious meal we've ever had in a parking lot: fresh bianchetto truffle shaved over eggs and grits. Photos by Cynthia Graber and Nicola Twilley.

Beatriz Agueda

Beatriz Agueda studies edible fungi that bond with trees, focusing on black truffles. She is an assistant professor at the Cambium Research Group in Soria, Spain, as well as a fellow with Föra Forest Technologies.

The Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for the Public Understanding of Science, Technology, and Economics

This episode of Gastropod was supported by a generous grant from the Alfred P. Sloan Foundation for the Public Understanding of Science, Technology, and Economics. Check out the other books, movies, shows, podcasts, and more that they support here.


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