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Home > Truffle guide. White & Black Truffles.  >  Order TRUFFLES (Tuberales)

Order TRUFFLES (Tuberales)

Mushrooms of the order of truffles belong to the group of hypogean (underground) Ascomycetes. This order includes about 100 species a specific character of which is underground fruit bodies - they are usually called truffles.

Truffles are mushrooms that are not widely known these days, actually they are almost forgotten. Information about their locations in our country is very scarce. But there were times when they were widely famous and were in high demand as a valuable product. Most often truffles grow in warm regions of temperate zone, especially in France, Italy, Spain, Portugal, southern regions of Germany , in the southwest and in the moderate climate zone of European part of Russia. Outside Europe they are known in North Africa and California.

Fruit bodies of truffles are round or tuber-like, of fleshy or gelatinous consistency, for most species closed when mature. The size of truffle fruit bodies (depending on the species) can range from a hazel nut to a large potato tuber or even larger, and their weight sometimes reaches 1 kg. The outer part of a truffle fruit body is differentiated as a leathery layer - peridium, which on the outside can be smooth, cracked or covered with large or small polyhedral warts. When cut, fleshy tissue of the mushroom has a distinctive marble pattern consisting of alternating light and dark veins. First veins are called inner veins and the second - outer veins. In some species of truffles (Tuber excavatum, T. rufum) all outer veins meet in one point on the surface of the fruit body where its shell breaks and they open outside. Others - for example, summer truffle (T. aestivum) have several such points on the surface. Outer veins alternate with inner ones which are denser. They come out of outer parts under the common shell and all curve to the same point.

Asci of truffles are located inside the fruit body or on inner veins, forming something similar to hymenial layer (while outer veins look like very wrinkled sheets), or in nest-looking way in ascocarps. This property is considered a systematic character. Asci of truffle mushrooms can be of various shape. They can be round, oval, club-shaped, sack-like, less often - cylindrical, containing 1, 2, 4 or 8 spores. Ascospores are always unicellular, colorless or gray-brown, of round or elliptic shape. Their shell is usually reticulate or echinulate, warty. Releasing of spores happens passively after complete destruction of ascocarp or when they are eaten by animals.

At early stages of development fruit bodies are located among a dense entanglement of mycelium in a close connection with it; they look like little round bodies. At the end of winter or in early spring one can discern separate inner tissues in them and even clearly see the color and structure of the surface. Later mycelium disappears, and the ripe fruit body lies in the soil by itself or just touches the mycelium with its more or less prominent base (Ghoiromyces and Terfezia genera). At young stages of development of the mushroom Tuber excavatum embryos of fruit bodies appear as open saucer-looking formations, on the concave and somewhat wrinkled surface of which embryos of hymenial layer arise as a palisade-structured layer of paraphysis. During later development the embryonic ascocarp located in the soil doesn't have the opportunity to grow width-wise. Therefore it forms numerous wrinkles on the surface of hymenium and later shrinks its initially widely opened aperture into a narrow hole, that is the point where outer veins open. The hymenium covering them first consists of paraphysis which eventually grows, intertangles with similar paraphysis growing from the opposite wrinkle and fills gaps between them with a spongy plexus of hyphae, thus forming outer veins. On the boundary between inner and outer veins among the paraphysis asci develop; they don't form a normal hymenial layer. They often contain less than eight spores as a result of early degeneration of some of them. Mushrooms of Choiromyces genus, while having similar initial development, have hymenium growing not on all the surface of wrinkles but only in the deepest parts; their upper areas join together so that the opening of outer veins disappears. Because of this feature in the mature fruit body the hymenium with asci inlays closed groove-looking cavities which are not connected with each other. Despite all the differences between mature fruit bodies of truffle mushrooms and apoteciums of discomycetes, their ontogenetic development shows significant similarities, which gives a reason to conclude truffles from discomycetes and, more precisely, from Pezizales order.

So, fruit bodies of truffles can be defined as underground very wrinkled apoteciums. Based on this foundation some taxonomists consider truffles to be an order of a group of discomycetes. Truffle mushrooms are a good example of the influence of life conditions on the morphology of fruit body. Ascocarps of truffles rejoin, with the help of peridium defending asci developing inside from the pressure of soil. Typical hymenium of discomycetes loses its initial features, and asci lose their cylindrical shape and orderly location, which can be explained by no need to actively disseminate spores, and they are only released with general destruction of the fruit body. In the family of truffles asci form hymenial layer. Fruit bodies don't turn into powder at maturity.

This family is represented by genera: Balsamia, Choiromyces, Stephensia, Tuber.

In the family of Terfezia asci are located nest-like inside fruit bodies; they don't turn into powder at maturity. The family includes the following genera: Picoa, Tirmania, Terfezia. Some authors also include the family of Elaphomycetaceae in this order. Truffles prefer spongy calciferous, somewhat ferrous soil resulting from weathering of pure or loamy limestone, which is not very suitable for other plants. For such soil it is typical that in the presence of lime rotting plant remnants (fallen leaves and sticks) easily decay while producing a lot of nitrogen products, which are used by the mushroom's mycelium. Truffle mushrooms necessarily need to form a mycorrhiza, and therefore they grow in the neighborhood of seed plants. For example, black truffles (Tuber melanosporum, T. aestivum) grow in forests with oak, beech, hornbeam, hazelnut. These trees and a special type of soil are a favorable condition for truffle growing. White truffles (. magnatum, Choiromyces meandriformis) grow in broadleaf forests together with birch, poplar, elm, basswood, willow, ash or hawthorn. Sometimes truffles form mycorrhiza with such trees as juniper, fir or pine. Mushrooms from Terfezia genus form mycorrhiza with plants of rockrose family. Truffle mycelium usually produces from 3 to 7 fruit bodies arranged as a circle, nest-like. When mature they raise the soil, which serves as a sign for mushroom hunters. Every year such nests grow and expand, and if the mycelium is not broken, in such places (called truffle places) a harvest of mushrooms can be expected in the following years. For their full development truffles require from 3 to 4 months, and several kinds of them ripen from summer to winter. For example, winter truffle (. brumale) ripens from November till February, summer truffle (. aestivum) - in June and July.

Underground fruit bodies are not harmed by frosts up to -6 , though when they are on the surface, they easily get affected by cold and lose their taste with even minor frosts.

Truffles are highly valued by gourmets of many countries. Some of them are known since ancient times. Among truffles of practical value, real black French truffle (. melanosporum) is undoubtedly considered the most precious and important; it is also called Perigord truffle (this is the name of the province where it grows).

Fruit bodies of black French truffle are angular-round, with large warts and point-looking deepenings on the surface, reddish- or grayish-brownish-black color, of size from a walnut to a medium-sized apple. Flesh reddish, violet black or grayish-brownish-red when mature, with black and white veins which have red brims. Asci contain 4-6 black-brownish ascospores, ornamented with sharp spines.

This truffle ripens in autumn and is harvested until winter. Its fruit bodies are in the highest demand and have persistent strong aroma. Real black truffle is in large quantities harvested in southern France; it can also be found in Switzerland, northern Italy and very rarely - in southern regions of Germany. Winter and summer truffles are more widespread territorially; because of it they are used for food more often. Another group of truffles used for food - white truffles. Wonderful aroma and delicate flavor of a real black-spored truffle determine a continuous high demand for these mushrooms. However, because of symbiotic nature of truffles' life champignon-like artificial growing of them doesn't succeed.

Only in southern France and in Italy so-called "indirect" way of industrial truffle-growing is used, for which they build artificial truffle plantations. They take acorns, preferably from an oak forest where truffles grow, sow them in an appropriate soil; make special nests and place there the soil taken from truffle places and containing spores and mycelium. After 10-12 years first truffles appear under little oaks. Fruit bodies can be harvested every year, if the sowings are constantly thinned out. Truffle nests are marked by dry grass and somewhat elevated soil, reminding of molehills.

Mass truffle harvesting in France uses trained dogs and pigs. Because of their nature pigs easily find these mushrooms to eat them. The animals are attracted by the smell of truffles, and they are able to sniff them from up to 20 m. For training one should take 3-4 months old females; they can be used until they are 12-15 years old. When the pig finds truffles and starts to dig, one should hit it at the nose with a short stick, force the pig away - and dig out the fruit bodies. The pig should be given boiled beans, peas or corn as a reward. However, the pig usually gets tired soon, and the work with it stops. If the mushrooms grow on light sand soil and the nests are scattered far from each other, it is reasonable to use dogs, which in addition don't get tired as often as pigs and can run around a larger territory.

Using dogs for truffle hunting has been known in Italy since XV century. Any dog breeds can be used, but short-legged ones - poodles, pooches - turn out to be the best. Hunter dogs are unsuitable for truffle hunting. Until 60s of XIX century trained bears were used for truffle harvesting around Moscow. For training dogs one should choose females and accustom them to truffles since puppy age. First they are given milk with added truffle broth, later - bread with addition of truffles. When the puppies grow up a little, they are first trained in a room with hidden pieces of wood rubbed with truffles. The puppy is given food upon finding them. Then they are trained in the yard, in the garden, and finally, in the forest. A dog easily gets used to such hunt. It sniffs the ground and barks when it finds truffles.

Residents of French provinces Perigord and Veacluse practice so-called "fly hunting" based on the fact that flies of certain species (truffle flies - Helomyza gigantea ) lay eggs in the ground near truffles. Their larvae feed on tissues of these mushrooms. So, flying of these insects points at the presence of truffles.


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