History of Truffles

Though being very expensive the truffles are still quite demanded delicacy all over the world. Probably their exquisite specific aroma has captivated people since ancient times. Some believed that  truffles have supernatural quality and saw them as God’s gift to humanity. The history of this fruit of the Earth is  filled with mystery and superstition and that is why it is so interesting to learn about. The word ‘truffle’ comes from the Latin word  “tuber”, which means ‘’swelling’. The ancient Greeks called it

Hydnon ( from which is derived “hydnology”,=the science of the truffle) or Idra, the Romans called it “Tuber”, from the verb “tumere” (=to swell) ,the Arabs “Ramech Alchamech Tufus” or “Tomer” and “Kemas”, the Spanish people called it “Turma de tierra” or “Cadilla de tierra”, the French “Truffe”, the English “Truffle” and the Germans “Hirstbrunst” or “Truffel”.

The first to mention the truffles were ancient Egyptians. They appreciated its gastronomic qualities a lot and ate it dipped in goose fat.  This   gourmet entrée increased its popularity thanks to the  myth  people believed in- the truffles came from the ground after lightning struck the earth(These   mushrooms live underground occupying to the roots of hazel, chestnut, oak  or beech trees).

 A legend says that a farmer saw his pig eating the mushrooms found at the root of a tree. The farmer decided to try the mushrooms himself after he noticed that the truffle was not poisonous to the pig.  The story says the farmer and his wife could have children after he started eating the truffles regularly.

The Sumerian people left information about a diet containing truffles  in around 1600 – 1700 B.C. The ancient Sumerians cooked the truffle together  with other vegetables such as lentils, barley, chick peas, and mustard.Very probably their “tuber terrae” were not the same cultivated truffle we know today, but the “terfezia Leanis” Terfezia Arenaria or other  species. These were found more often then , especially  in North Africa and West Asia. Some specimen weighed three to four kilos; they were highly esteemed since in those times other tubers like the potato and Jerusalem artichoke from America, were completely unknown.

The Greeks and Romans used the truffles for healing, believing that they gave constant health to the body and soul. Truffles were also appreciated for their exotic qualities and  its aroma, making them more popular among the noble classes.

Throughout the Middle Ages the tables were not abundant with delicacies so truffle had no place there but remained instead the fodder of wolves, foxes, wild boar ,badgers, pigs,  rats. Throughout the middle Ages, truffles virtually disappeared because  the church  believed that truffles were the creation of the devil because of their exotic flavor. They were sometimes related to witches and for centuries, not many people ate or sold them.

The Renaissance brought the revival of good taste and abundant table .Subsequently the truffle began to gain  popularity. The precious truffles were preferred by Louis XIV ,French lords in the XIV and XV centuries. Louis XIV was enchanted by the taste and flavor of the truffles. He ordered truffle cultivation but it was not successful.

In the 1700’s the Piedmontese truffle was deemed by all the European courts to be an exceptional delicacy.

Guests and foreign ambassadors in Turin were invited to participate in truffle hunting which became court entertainment. Probably in those days the sophisticated hounds replaced the use of pigs (as in France) for digging the truffles.

Italian sovereigns Vittorio Amedeo II and Carlo Emanuele III seriously hunted truffles at the end of XVII century and the beginning of XVIII centyury.  Carlo Emanuele III conducted a  truffle expedition in 1751   trying to introduce the truffle to the British cuisine. However the truffles  found in England were  of very bad quality compared to the French ones.

The most enormous production of truffles was recorded  in 1800.  All Europe was flooded by over 2,000 tons of truffles. This age of luxuriance and wealth lasted shortly. It was World War I, after which majority of the rural lands were destroyed and the production of truffles dropped abruptly. The  production  hit  its lowest point  by the 1960s:not more than 400 tons.

Nowadays, eating truffles is still a rare luxury, which most of the people allow themselves only on very special occasions.

Did you know?

The truffle   was called  “the Mozart of fungi” by Gioacchino Rossini.

Count Camillo Benso di Cavour, used the truffle as a diplomatic instrument in politics.

The truffle  Tuber Magnatum Pico (Magnatum – magnate, ;Pico refers to the Piedmontese Vittorio Pico-the first scientist  who studied its taxonomy)got its name in the first book on the white truffle of Alba, published  in 1780  in Milan.

Alexandre Dumas adored the truffle and called it the Sancta Santorum of the table.

A truffle was kept on a desk by Lord Byron  because he stated its aroma  helped his inspiration .

 ‘ The science of truffle’ is called hydnology. It is based on Carlo Vittadini’s    “Monographia Tuberacearum”,   listing g 51 species of truffle published in Milan in 1831.