BRIEFLY Tuscany boasts of two relatively truffle-rich areas: one near San Giovanni deuroAsso south of Siena, the other around San Miniato in Pisa province. Every autumn hundreds of truffle lovers congregate in the ancient main squares of these towns to sample, judge and evaluate the many varieties of this so desired and costly fungus or tuber about which the great Brillant Savarin once said that it could euromake a woman more tender and a man more loveableeuro. In those autumn days of gourmet festivals the truffle is king of the kitchen and its unforgettable aromas never cease to amaze and spell-bind. Tuscan truffles are very good, but the true world quality standard is set by those found only in the Prigord region of France.WHAT IS A TRUFFLE?An off-yellow to dark brown, lumpy, wart-flecked fungus of the species tuber that grows under ground to any size from pea to orange. Under the thin outer crust it consists of flesh, Latin gleba, that is white in the young truffle but gradually darkens and at maturity is black mottled by whitish veins. Tuscan varieties are classified principally as the white truffle magnatum pico, the black melanosporum vitt, the off-white albidum, the summery aestivum and the wintery brumale.Truffles grow only on or near the roots of trees, mainly limes, poplars and weeping willows and especially oaks, at depths up to thirty centimetres (twelve inches). They are hunted with the aid of keen-nosed pigs or talented dogs, but since porcine predilections for the precious lumps are even more enthusiastic than mankindeuros, determined digging sprees for the prize are usually won by the pig. It is therefore prudent to train up a dog, by nature indifferent to truffle charms. Commercial cultivation is impracticable - rare and special soils are needed in addition to the right tree roots, and the creation of fecund conditions requires much costly, expert and laborious care for eight or ten years before, if ever, any useful specimens appear (often none ever do). Truffles are so rare in North American that few people have ever heard of them, let alone hunted any. Apparently truffles live in symbiosis with the tree, absorbing water and mineral salts from the soil through the tree roots. Colour, texture, aroma and flavour seem to be determined by the symbiosis. Oak-borne truffles have a more penetrating, pungent aroma compared with those growing near lime trees, whose perfume is powerful but gentler, sweeter. It should be remembered that truffles have very little flavour by themselves - their preciousness derives from their unique ability to impart a wonderfully delicious, almost magical flavour to accompanying or ancillary foods on which they are placed or with which they are mixed.