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Home > Truffle guide. White & Black Truffles.  >  Truffle: history and modern times

Truffle: history and modern times

Truffle is a kind of wild mushrooms symbiotic with certain species of trees, mostly oak, chestnut, hazelnut and beech. This is one of the most expensive culinary delicacies: the price of white truffles sometimes reaches as much as 6-10 thousand dollars per kilogram. The word originates from Latin word tuber (growth, expansion). A truffle has round shape which is never the same, and can be of various sizes. In color it can be black, dark brown, gray and even white. Truffles grow in calciferous or clay soil, almost on the surface (less than 30 cm under the ground). Truffle industry of France (mostly in the southeast and southwest of the country) was undergoing a sharp decline in the beginning of 20 century because of deforestation, deterioration of soil quality and use of pesticides. Before 1914 regular harvest of truffles in the province of Perigord was 1800 tons; now no more than 200 tons is gathered in the whole France. This figures show how impractical it became to use truffles in classical recipes.

Truffle has been known and appreciated since ancient times. Egyptians cooked it covered with goose fat. Ancient Greeks and Romans were of the opinion that truffle has therapeutic and aphrodisiac properties. The last belief was quite strong also in 19 century, when Alexander Dumas wrote about truffles: "Under certain circumstances they are able to make a woman more affectionate and a man more passionate". Until the beginning of 18 century the origin of truffles was shrouded in mystery. Plutarch says in his description of thunder: "Lightning, when touching the ground, sends growth to truffles, which are unlike plants." In the Middle Ages it was common to think that truffles come from the devil - that's how they fell into oblivion. But at the time of Renaissance the public opinion rehabilitated them, and they have decidedly come into fashion under Louis XIV. The king's cook recommended to make a stew out of dried or raw truffles (washed, cooked in wine and seasoned with salt and pepper) and serve it between fish and roast meat on a napkin or on a plate with flowers. In 1711 French botanists have completely justified the assignment of truffle to the class of mushrooms. The practice of using pigs with the sense of smell necessary for finding truffles was common in 17 century. Also some breeds of dogs were used. People, too, were able to find places where a truffle was hiding - these were peasants living in truffle-inhabited areas. Nowadays truffles are found with the help of animals (dogs or pigs). In some cases the trajectory of an insect's flight can tell about a truffle's location. While holding the animal on the leash, one has to closely watch its work to put it aside at the right moment and not to let it dig the ground and harm the mushrooms. Upon digging the truffle out by hands, one leaves immature mushrooms and flattens the ground not to attract the attention of poachers.

Truffles still remain goods that are sold by a piece. They are not sown and not farm-grown. They get conceived spontaneously, when mushroom spores and mildew get connected with the roots of oak (or another symbiotic tree) and form a mycorrhiza feeding on the tree's nutrients.

There are known 70 kinds of truffles total; 32 of them occur in Europe. The most precious is black Perigord truffle, which ripens after the first frost. This kind has body of black color with pale veins and emits strong aroma. Actually, it can be also found in other provinces in France and even outside it, in Tuscany, Piemonte and Aragon. "Saint-Jean", or otherwise truffle d’ete - dark brown truffle with white veins; gray truffle of Champagne and Burgundy; brown Alsace truffle with black veins - they are all less fragrant than terfez - a snow white truffle of North Africa growing in Atlas Mountains.

White Piemonte truffle is especially popular. It has an exquisite aroma (especially the truffle from Alba region). The season of this kind is from October to December. It is served with capon, veal and sometimes with lobster. It is also eaten as a main dish, cooked in Asti, sprinkled with Parmesan and seasoned with lemon juice. Sauce made from Piemonte truffles, butter, cream, garlic and anchovies, is poured over spaghetti or vegetables. Truffle is also eaten raw, grated or cut into thin slices with the use of a special device; it is served as a side dish for grilled meat, chicken, ravioli or risotto.

Truffle is mentioned in all recipes where the word Perigord appears; it can be meat, chicken, pate, ground meat, blood sausages, egg dishes or salads. One famous gastronomist said: "If you like eggs and you have a few truffles at home, put them together - and as early as the next morning you will have for breakfast the best boiled eggs you've ever tried."


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