Do not mistake this fungus for the precious white truffle
What is it?
The tuber magnatum pico (aka the Alba truffle, precious white truffle, white winter truffle) has a doppelganger. Meet the choiromyces meandriformis, in northern Europe it is known as choiromyces venosus. As it contains the Greek word ‘choiros,’ meaning swine, the fungus has acquired a third name – the pig truffle. They are a false truffle, true truffles are those which belong to the genus tuber. So tuber magnatum, tuber melanosporum, tuber brumale and the others.
Choiromyces meandriformis is irregular in shape and can weigh up to 500 gr. The colour of the peridium (outer layer) is whitish at first. As it matures it turns a pale yellow/brown and may be dappled with brownish-red spots. The gleba (flesh) is fairly compact and starts off white before becoming yellowish with pale coloured veining which meanders throughout (hence the meandriformis part of its name). It will be unearthed by dogs trained to find truffles and to strengthen the case of mistaken identity, it grows around the same time as its more expensive counterpart.
Where is it found?
Its geographic range is far more widespread than that of tuber magnatum so it will turn up in places such as the UK. Environmental scientists have been forecasting for some years that, because of climate change, the more valuable truffle species may well end up being better suited to northern Europe. As yet these are just predictions, so don’t give up your day job if you dig up a white tuber in Shropshire – you have probably just found a pig truffle.
In addition to the United Kingdom, hunters have found choiromyces meandriformis in Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Czech Republic, Denmark, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Italy, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Poland, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland and the Ukraine. It is likely to have been unearthed in Asia and possibly even the McMurdo Dry Valleys of Antarctica
If you are familiar with tuber magnatum you will not be fooled by any similarities in appearance. When you cut open the fake truffle, it is not uniformly solid so the texture is flakier than the true truffle. Nor does it have the distinctive aroma or flavour of the precious white. When fresh it smells fairly pleasant but this fragrance rapidly becomes more of a stench as the choiromyces ages.
Is it edible?
Gastronomic appreciation of choiromyces meandriformis varies across Europe. It is considered toxic in France, Italy and Spain as it is a gastointestinal irritant. However in countries such as Hungary the fungus is collected and used as a spice. Studies from Sweden report that there have been no recorded cases of poisoning from eating choiromyces.
Whatever the case, it is always going to be wise to exercise caution if you are considering eating this or any unfamiliar fungus. Be cautious too if you are offered a bargain basket of white truffles. Choiromyces meandriformis is occasionally marketed fraudulently as the precious white truffle. As may have been the case when this shirtless customer purchased some sub-standard fungi from one Signor Magi. Here he shows his displeasure at Mr. Magi himself, Mr Magi’s so-called truffles and Mr. Magi’s daughter.