Truffles: rare, aromatic, expensive

In this week's Lap of Luxury segment, we visit Urbani Truffles on the West Side of Manhattan, where just a few ounces of product can cost hundreds of dollars.

Vittorio Giordano, vice president of Urbani Truffles USA, showed us more than 35 pounds of summer truffles. At roughly $300 a pound, we were looking at about $10,000 worth of product.

In Urbani's modest store front on 60th Street and West End Avenue, these piles of fungus are big moneymakers. Imported by Urbani, they're considered some of the best truffles in the world.

David Arnold, the senior vice president of Robb Report, says truffles have become enormously popular over the last few years. He says Urbani is the dominant producer, importer and distributor, controlling about 70 percent of the global market.

But this isn't a new company. Urbani Truffles, based in Italy, has been in business since 1852. It works with 68 different countries, and has a network of over 18,000 people helping to move the product around the world.

Urbani also has few dogs. Truffle hunters go out in the middle of the night with dogs specially trained to find truffles, which are a natural product and can't be cultivated. If the hunt is successful, the truffles they find are shipped out fast. Urbani customers in the United States get their product less than 36 hours after the truffle was pulled from the ground in Italy. Giordano calls that service.

The white truffles are the crown jewel. Often considered the most rare and valuable of all truffles, white truffles cost around $200 an ounce and are in season again this fall. Last year, Urbani couldn't keep white truffles in stock. Last season in the United States, Urbani moved 1,900 kilos (about 4,500 pounds) of white truffles in just 3.5 months, Giordano says.

All year round, dozens of truffle sauces and oils are available to choose from. Right now, black summer truffles from Italy and black winter truffles from Australia are in season.

Picking a good one is partly visual. Giordano says that right now black truffles should be light brown in color. The most important characteristic is the smell. White truffles should be very earthy and pungent. Black winter truffles have a sweeter aroma.

But Giordano says the most important thing is how it smells to you. You need to identify the aroma. And he says that's as personal as picking your perfume.

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