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updated: 2/9/2012 2:19 PM

Ignite passion with truffles and wine

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Love comes in many flavors.

The drugstore greeting card "sweets for the sweet," with a sugary heart stamped "I luv u," pairs perfectly with White Zin.

But if your love is lusty, earthy and exotic, skip the candy and blend truffles into your lover's feast. There's nothing prefab about a truffle.

The truffles I'm talking about are the fruiting body of an underground fungus. During harvest, they are rooted up by trained pigs, or dogs (who are less likely to gobble up the truffle farmer's income.)

The lure for four- and two-footed mammals is aroma -- dense, musky, primal and altogether seductive. The truffle's aphrodisiac power was first documented in ancient Rome and its appeal and expense has escalated ever since.

In 2007, the world's most expensive fresh truffle was auctioned at $100,000 per pound, so a standard price of about $150 per ounce is reasonable by comparison. The black diamond of truffles -- France's Périgord Black -- is in season roughly from November through March and is extremely perishable. For fresh truffles, check gourmetfoodstore.com for availability. For canned and jarred truffles, check availability at Chicago Game & Gourmet (312) 455-1800.

Regardless of price, a little truffle goes a long way toward getting you hot and bothered. Classic preparations include risotto al tartufo (risotto with shaved truffles) served with northern Italy's Barbaresco. Fine producers include Bruno Giacosa, about $100. For a lower-priced option, look for a Nebbiolo d'Alba, such as Giacosa's about $40.

Modern chefs take advantage of the truffle's affinity for fat in dishes such as macaroni and cheese, which may incorporate black or white truffle shaving, or relatively economical truffle oil, about $17 per 3.5 ounces, or truffle butter, about $10 per ¼-pound (look for these at specialty grocers and gourmet markets.) Serve truffle mac and cheese with a buttery yet balanced Chardonnay like MacRostie "Sonoma Coast," about $19.

Oregon foodies combine love of cuisine with love of country -- Oregon truffle country, that is. With a climate that mimics Old World truffle regions, superb Oregonian truffles now attract foragers, diners and chefs alike to this new American crop.

"With adequate support," reads a feasibility study by Oregon experts, "cultivated and native truffles produced in Oregon could annually exceed $200 million in direct sales income; counting secondary economic benefits the value of the industry could exceed $1.5 billion."

As always, what grows together, goes together. Truffles with Oregon seafood -- including trout and Dungeness crab -- are deliciously served with Oregon white varieties, including Pinot Blanc (Elk Cove or Willakenzie) and Pinot Gris (A to Z or Bigfire).

For richer dishes, including grilled Oregon salmon or filet with truffle sauce, serve an earthy Oregon Pinot Noir (see Ross' Choice.)

The economic and gustatory benefit of tourism is already realized in the Oregon Truffle Fest, now in its seventh year. Held in Eugene during the peak of truffle season, includes culinary classes, a truffle hunt, an all-things-truffle marketplace, dog training and the One Big Truffle Recipe Contest for amateur cooks.

Sadly this season's event has come and gone, but you can find details and recipes from past festivals at oregontrufflefestival.com/index.html so you can cook up your own perfect pairing.

• Advanced Sommelier and Certified Wine Educator Mary Ross lives in Chicago. Write her at food@dailyherald.com.

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