Brief History of truffle

Thousands of years ago, truffles were already fascinating and highly appreciated. Among the Egyptians, the pharaoh Cheops, 4600 BC, was crazy about them. A text from 1600 BC describes truffle as a mysterious product from the earth, and Theophrastus (372-287 BC) described it as a “rootless vegetable, engendered by the stormy rains of autumn”.

Both Greeks and Romans had the reputation of being devoted lovers of truffles, to which they attributed therapeutic and aphrodisiac virtues. With the collapse of the Roman Empire, truffles fell somewhat into oblivion.

Persians also appreciated truffles: the great Iranian doctor Avicenna used to speak highly of them and recommended them to his patients.

In the Middle Ages, ecclesiastical dignitaries, who had taken a vow of abstinence, despised truffles and their aphrodisiac virtues. It was only during the Renaissance that truffle came back into fashion, and strongly.

Such a passion for truffles can be found in all the Royal Houses of Europe. Maria Theresa of Austria, for example, loved this tuber, with a predilection for its preparation in omelettes.

In the middle of the 19th century, abundance was such that it was advised to use a pound of it for truffling a capon. In the Périgord, peasants consumed it as a vegetable.

In Europe, where can we go “truffle-hunting”?

Truffle being quite demanding in terms of climate, soil and surrounding plants , it can be found only in a well-defined area, located between forty and forty-seven degrees North latitude.

From Touraine in France to the Italian border, it draws a corridor that passes through Libourne (Gironde) and the Périgord and alongside the Mediterranean, with a northwards extension along the Rhône valley.

This route continues into Italy from Alba in Piedmont and along the Apennines, down to Rome. In the Iberian Peninsula, we can find truffles between the southern slopes of the Pyrenees to Guadalajara.

The truffle, elsewhere in the world

Chinese Black Truffle

It belongs to the tuber family and includes the species Tuber Himalayense, Tuber Indicum and Tuber Sinense. Their geographical origin is located in China and more particularly in the foothills of the Himalayas. Sometimes fraudulently colored by scammers, they are sold as real gastronomic truffles.

The trade of Chinese truffles is not illegal, the fraud coming from the fact that they are sold as the European Melanosporum. Its consumption does not present any danger, but it has less taste and tends to absorb aromas from their immediate surroundings.

The Chinese truffle has a slightly different skin appearance and shape than melanosporum. It is a little more regular, and especially the veining is characteristic. Its diameter can reach seven centimeters.

Desert Truffles

The white truffle from the sands of North Africa “Terfizium Leonis” is also called “snow white” or “terfez” in the local language. It grows in the Atlas Mountains and belongs to the tuber family. It is rather light brown and has no gastronomic value because of its lack of distinctive taste. It is mainly cooked in stewed dishes. Its size varies between that of a hazelnut and an apple, and it doesn’t have a regular shape.

The Lion truffle

We can find truffles in several regions of Iran. Iranian truffles have a light grey colour. Their sizes vary between that of a walnut and an orange. The renowned French botanist Chatin called them “Mountain Truffles” or “Lion Truffles”. This botanist has long studied Iranian truffles and classified them as follows:

Terfezia aphroditis chatin:
region of origin: Azerbaijan.
Date of identification: 1897

Terfezia hafizii chatin:
region of origin : around the city of Tehran and the province of Fars, in the center of the country.
Identified in: 1892

Terfezia hanotauxii chatin :
area of origin: Mount Alborz, which overlooks the city of Teheran, and at the lower slopes of the Zagros Mountains (which run from the west of the country to the south-central region).
Identified in: 1897.

Iranian truffles usually grow at the foot of the high mountains. They have the particularity of being anti-bacterial and anti-viral. They play an important role in the cholesterol balance. Depending on the region, they grow in autumn and also from early March to mid-April. These truffles do not grow very deep. Depending on their size, they create cracks on the surface of the ground, a characteristic that allows people to find them. Iranian truffles and mainly Terfezia aphroditis chatin are very rich in protein.

In 2006, in the region of Elam, in the west of the country, the population found a truffle weighing about 3kg. The different varieties of Iranian truffles are not of great gastronomic value. The population eats them as a vegetable. They are dried so that they can be eaten all year round.

The mystery of truffle?

Truffle is a mythical mushroom. Since antiquity, men never knew very well what a truffle was. Sometimes from the mineral kingdom, sometimes from the vegetable kingdom, born of thunder and lightning, the medieval world considered it as an emanation of the devil, a rumour spread by those representatives of the Church, hostile to the pleasures of the table…

Nowadays, we know that truffles belong to the ascomycetae fungus family. What enchant us, is not the fungus itself, but its fructification, which is the result of an underground reproduction. The fungus itself is actually a widely branched network of hyphae extending several feet into the ground, called the mycelium. When hyphae of different types of fungi meet, fruiting takes place, provided the weather is favourable and the soil is calcareous and rich in humus. In addition, an extra complex requirement affecting also the fruiting process of truffles is the phenomenon of mycorrhiza. This is the name given to the close and sometimes symbiotic relationship that is established between the networks of fungi and the roots of the trees.

The division of tasks between the two partners follows very precise rules: the truffle produces nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium and other equally important substances, while the tree provides carbohydrates. But the truffle is not satisfied with just any tree. Only some of them are chosen: maple, birch, lime or elm. But it is with the oak tree that it prefers to coexist.

Its name truffle comes from the fact that it grows in the ground in a depth of about 5 to 30 cm, which on the surface can generate the appearance of some mounds. This is why the Middle Ages used the designation “terrae tuffolae” which, through lexical contraction, became “tartuffole “, then the Italian “tartufo” and finally the French “truffe“.

Although extremely scarce in nature, the truffle has succumbed to the efforts of the truffle growers for the delight of gourmets.

About thirty species of this tuber are listed, including: the Perigord Truffle (Tuber Melanosporum), particularly tasty, the Summer Truffle (Tuber Aaestivum) with its fine and light smell but less typical flavour, or the White Truffle of Alba (Tuber Magnatum Pico), harvested in Italy in the Piedmont region and recognizable among all because of its white colour, its perfume and its bewitching flavour.

Is the truffle an aphrodisiac?

The answer is uncertain and may be related to the enthusiasm of the truffle sow when foraging the soil to find them. Indeed, if the sow looks for truffles naturally, it is because they emanate scents similar to the substances found in the sexual organs of the pig. It is her instinct that guides her towards the tracks of a boar.

What bewitches us, and which holds much of its mystery, is due to “testosterase”, a substance almost identical to the male hormone: “testosterone”.

Nevertheless, if the aphrodisiac effects often attributed to truffles do not extend to us humans, the fact remains that that it involves one of our subconscious vegetative zones.

In this regard, the famous Chef Brillat Savarin wrote: “So let’s continue to believe in it and above all eat it!”

And as Alexandre Dumas said: “Gourmets of all eras have never pronounced the name of truffle without without taking their hats off to them “.

Having said that, whether truffle is an aphrodisiac or not, we must admit that it is such a pleasure to savour it…