The word truffle seems to derive from the Latin “Terrae Tufer”, growth of the earth, and its ancient origins (we are talking about centuries before the birth of Christ) are mainly connected to Mediterranean cultures. Its unmistakable aroma and its particular properties have been mixed with myth since very distant times, especially among the noble classes and the clergy, when it was thought that its perfume could have ecstatic effects on people: thus the legend of this first fruit of the Earth grew.
During the Renaissance, the truffle became a precious gem of court cuisine throughout Europe. Its consumption was reserved for the nobles and its search became a real entertainment for the sovereigns and their guests, but it is always Italy that has a place of honour in the truffle harvest: here valuable species are found such as white truffle, black truffle, summer truffle and hooked truffle.
Care and Collection
Once upon a time… the pig. Today it is difficult to believe, but historically this was the animal used in truffle hunting due to its exceptional sense of smell. While in other parts of Europe the pig still plays its part in research, in Italy we prefer now man’s best friend, the dog. Why? The pig, although very effective, is difficult to train when it comes to gluttony and obviously tends to eat the object of its search; furthermore, he gets tired very easily. Since the Second World War, therefore, it has been the dog that helps the leader in what is a real hunt: the patient, traditional one, rich in forest scents and sensations, made up of walks at dawn and sweet discoveries in the crisp air.
There are various breeds patiently trained in this art: the most common are the Lagotto Romagnolo, the Bracco and the Pointer, but mixed breeds are also very skilled companions.
Although there is generally a harvesting calendar, some species are harvested all year round, usually during the coolest hours of the day in summer and the hottest hours of the day in winter. Fortunately, its conservation allows us to enjoy the truffle even in periods in which it is absent in nature.
Development and Classification
The first to document in depth the various species of underground mushrooms – as the truffle is defined because it grows underground – was Carlo Vittadini in 1831, when he published the “Monographia tuberacearum” in which he described 65 species of truffle, of which 51 had never been seen before. He gave the name to the famous summer truffle.
His study and classification continue, particularly in Piedmontese study centres.
Tradition and Curiosity
The oldest legend sees the truffle as a divine creation: Jupiter hurled lightning at the foot of an oak and the first Tuber Terrae was born there (this is what Plutarch called it in the 1st century AD, adding that this mushroom was born from lightning, water and heat ).
If the myth has had so much space in the origins of the truffle, it is because even today we are unable to define them with certainty: we can equally appreciate this treasure buried – not too deep – in the earth, under the branches of oaks, poplars, ash trees, elms, maples and other trees in the forest.
The best way to appreciate a truffle?
Its uses are multiple and in each one you can savour all its nuances. The white one is perfect to be enjoyed raw directly on pasta and meat, while the black and summer ones are also excellent in oil or cooked in a pan, perhaps to be tasted in risotto or as an addition to fish dishes.
The result is an exaltation of firsts and second courses.