Hello my dear readers,
Scented, tasty, precious like a diamond: it is the truffle, one of the most loved tubers in the world.
Always considered a valuable and expensive product, the truffle is used in the kitchen to flavour first and second courses and other recipes thanks to a truly unmistakable flavour and aroma.
The truffle is a fruit of the earth known since ancient times, both the Babylonians and the Romans already used it. It has been appreciated in the Far East for thousands of years and also in pre-Columbian America.
The first written records date back to 1600-1700 BC, to the times of the Sumerians and the patriarch Jacob.
The ancient Sumerians used the truffle by mixing it with other vegetables such as barley, chickpeas, lentils and mustard, while also the ancient Athenians are said to have adored it.
The first true testimony spread in Europe, can be found in Pliny the Elder’s Naturalis Historia (23-79 AD). The anecdotes reported revealed that the truffle, in Latin called terrae tuber (growth of the earth) or simply tuber, was highly appreciated at the table by the ancient Romans who had copied the culinary use by the ancient Etruscans.
Even the Greeks used the truffle in their kitchen, as demonstrated by the philosopher Plutarch of Chaeronea who expressed the idea that the rare and precious mushroom was born from the combination of some natural elements such as water, heat and lightning. The poet Juvenal took his cue from this theory, according to which the origin of the truffle is due to lightning thrown by the father of the gods, Jupiter, near an oak tree. In addition, given that Jupiter was famous for his prodigious sexual activity, the truffle was considered highly aphrodisiac.
Based on this power, another legend tells that the truffle was dedicated by the pagans to the goddess Venus.
Although the precious mushroom was treated by scholars, philosophers and poets, the origin of the truffle was never established.
This is why very little knowledge combined with popular beliefs made the truffle think of it as a degenerative growth of the soil and over the years as food for the devil or witches.
But what is exactly the truffle?
Technically, it is an Hypogeum mushroom, or an underground mushroom. It belongs to the Tuber genus, part of the Tuberaceae family, which in turn is a subdivision of the Ascomycetes class.
Truffles grow spontaneously in the ground, next to the roots of some trees or shrubs, in particular oaks and elms, with which they establish a symbiotic relationship.
The truffle is a hypogean mushroom because it completes its entire life cycle underground, it has a globular shape also very flattened and irregular with a pale yellow color, sometimes tending to ocher with red-brown patches.
The pulp is fleshy, with a color that varies from brownish to grayish, to white, to dark brown and can be traversed by veins.
By smelling it you can perceive a delicious and balanced scent of garlic, hay and honey.
It also reaches the size of a large apple.
It is available only in late summer, autumn and early winter.
For 80% of its mass, the truffle is composed of water, while for the remaining 20% of ash, nitrogen, proteins, lipids, soluble carbohydrates and dietary fiber.
The various types of truffle differ from many points of view: territoriality, seasonality, colours, flavour, aroma.
The white truffle is the true spearhead among the various species of this precious mushroom, for which enthusiasts and experts are willing to pay very high figures.
A characteristic of the white truffle is the scarce availability: it grows in humus-poor soils, and would need an environment with constant air circulation and soil rich in calcium, soft and humid.
While black truffle is a little bit easier to find.
The truffle is a particularly valuable and very expensive product, according to value and price among the products of the food sector only with caviar, or better to say to some types of caviar.
1kg of white truffle can cost between 2100 – 3500 Euro (US$ 2300 – 3800) and
1kg of black truffle 350 to 600 Euro (US$ 380 to 650)
The species of hypogean fungi classified as tuber are almost a hundred, some slightly toxic or with a nauseating smell, and therefore not suitable for consumption. There are no very toxic or poisonous species but only 9 species are considered edible and 6 are the most commonly marketed.
Precious white truffle or Magnatum Pico
It has a unique, pleasantly aromatic scent. The fine white is also called Alba truffle or Piedmont truffle, because it is typical of the area. It is absolutely the most commercially valuable.
The white truffle has a symbiotic relationship with limes, oaks, willows and poplars. It needs a soft and moist soil, rich in calcium, with good air circulation and proliferates in favorable climatic conditions.
It is usually harvested from September to December.
2. Precious black truffle
It is also called Norcia truffle, Spoleto truffle or Perigord truffle. By delicately cutting the skin, you will notice that it is compact and hard. Its perfume is very intense and aromatic.
It is the most prized after the white one. Its habitat is in the hilly and mountainous areas, where oak, English oak and hazel grow. Under these plants in the presence of the truffle the vegetation is sparse, as well as the turf due to the action of the mushroom.
The harvest period usually runs from December to March.
3. Summer black truffle
It can reach a size of 10-12 centimeters and it has an intense aromatic smell. It is distinguished from the precious black truffle because if you cut the inside, the pulp is not dark, but tends to a dark yellow. The summer truffle grows in both clayey and sandy soils, in deciduous forests.
The harvest period occurs between May and December.
4. Bianchetto truffle or whitish truffle
It is often associated with the precious white truffle, because it has an irregular, smooth and dirty white rind. But when it matures, its appearance is a little darker. Even the pulp darkens with maturation.
On an olfactory examination, it can be perceived that its perfume is less intense and pleasant, with lively notes. However, it remains a respectable truffle and is highly sought after, although its commercial price is lower than that of the prized white truffle.
It grows in the areas of central Italy (Romagna, Marche and Tuscany), in deciduous and coniferous forests in limestone-type soils. Harvesting takes place from January to March.
5. Winter black truffle
It is often confused with the precious black truffle because it lives in the same environment in symbiosis with the same type of plants. But it is enough to smell it to recognize it clearly because it smells like nutmeg. Its shape is rounded, regular enough that it can reach dimensions as large as an orange. It has a brownish black color surface with large warts. Inside, the pulp is dark with very wide white veins on a black background. It grows under deciduous trees.
It cost half of the value of the precious black truffle. The harvest period runs from December to March.
6. Smooth black truffle
Little known, it is less appreciated than the precious black truffle and therefore less commercialized. It has the typical shape of the dog’s nose with very little pronounced warts and can grow to the size of an egg. The smooth surface has a reddish brown color. It grows in symbiosis mainly with lime, oak, poplar and hazel trees.
In addition to these truffles mentioned above, which are the best known and marketed, there are others, less common but equally good. Like the ordinary black truffle characterized by a strong smell that some do not like, or the muscat truffle whose interior is gray with some white streaks hardly noticeable. It has a thin and light skin and has a penetrating and more acidic scent than the others.
Stay tuned and find out truffle’s journey from the earth to the table and what are its benefits.
Thank you all for reading.
And if you would like to discover more about our food, you may enjoy my previous posts
Wish you a wonderful day!
And please stay at home and stay safe!
Reference: MelaRossa, Urbani Tartufi.