The answer to that is “neither” and “both” I suppose.
Truffles are a fungus that grow in the earth in forested areas; Usually in the shade near trees. They can be found most dominantly in Europe and the Middle East. They are especially famous in France and Italy.
The French black truffle and the Italian white truffle are like diamonds in the culinary world. They are rare and have to be excavated deep within the dirt like a potato. They are also extremely expensive (the photo shows around a thousand dollars worth of truffles). In Italy they have truffle hunts where truffle lovers worldwide join together and dig in the dirt to find their beloved truffles and then have a festival afterward to celebrate their finds.
The reason why they are usually referred to as a mushroom is because they are a fungus much like a mushroom and are found in the woods; However mushrooms are a type of fungus that grow above ground and truffles are subterranean which is they are not technically “mushrooms”.
Black truffles also lend an amazing, earthy flavor to dishes that you would normally cook mushrooms in. White truffles, on the other hand, are usually served raw and are shaved onto a dish similar to how you would shave cheese. They are aromatic and even have a sweet hint of garlic flavor. Shaved white truffles blow the socks off of a macaroni and cheese dish!
Everyone has their own experience with truffles but the people who love them REALLLLLLLY LOOOOOVE them. If you have never had the opportunity to taste what they can do for a dish, you are truly missing out on one of nature’s greatest gifts – in my humble opinion. It is also very hard to find a wine lover that doesn’t also love their truffles. Freshly made pasta with cheese, a little shaved white truffle and a glass of wine makes for a perfect dinner in my world.
So what’s the deal with Chocolate Truffles?
What most people don’t know is that chocolate truffles are aptly named “truffles” because of their resemblance to a real truffle. These delicious chunks of chocolate mimic the shape and size of a truffle in addition to having dusted coco powder on them to symbolize the dirt. That’s about the extent of the similarity!
Nowadays chocolateirs don’t stick to the traditional style of chocolate “truffle” making so you don’t always see them with the dusted coco powder. They come in all styles now but they typically stay true the round or semi-round shape. So rest assured if you’re ever in a restaurant and you see truffles included on an entree or appetizer such as mac-n-cheese, know that it’s not shaved chocolate! LOL!
Also, a great place to buy truffles online (be prepared to drop some $$$) or if you want to purchase truffle oil, truffle salt or even truffle butter, check out the truffle section at Dean and Deluca.
* Be sure to always read the labels of truffle oils. A lot of truffle oil is actually truffle flavored as opposed to being truly truffle infused. I personally enjoy both given my tight budget, but the real thing is always best!