The truffle has been known since ancient times: it has always been considered mysterious and mythical.
“Truffle” comes from the Latin expression “terrae tufer”, earth excrescence where tufer would be used instead of tuber: its ancient presence is certain among Mediterranean peoples, and the first news appear in “Naturalis Historia” by Latin scholar Pliny the Elder (79 A.D.) from which it is deduced that the tuber was highly appreciated on Roman tables who had known and liked it from Etruscans. It is chronicled that Babylonians already knew it in 3000 B.C. and we have evidence of its presence also in Sumerians diet and during patriarch Jacob time, around 1700 B.C.
Its fame increased from Mesopotamia to Greece, where in the first century A.D. the philosopher Plutarch of Cheronea formulated the fanciful hypothesis according to which the truffles would have been generated by the combination of water, fire and lightning thrown by Zeus/Jupiter near an oak tree sacred to him, and this was then also taken up by the poet Juvenal: moreover, as Zeus/Jupiter was also famous for its amatory activity, the truffles were consider aphrodisiac, so that Greek physician Galeno wrote that they were very nutritious and that induced the erotic pleasure.
In Roman times truffle was very appreciated for its taste and had a high price because of its rarity, due to its difficult availability: the first recipes based on truffles can be found in “De re coquinaria”, work by Marco Gavio called Apicius, a famous gastronomist lived in the times of Emperor Tiberius.
During the Middle Ages the truffle was considered “devil food” and banished from every diet: it was believed that it was poisonous, and this depended on the fact that it could grow in land where there were vipers nests, rusty iron tools or even corpses or carcasses. The truffle was not only rediscovered, but also became a great protagonist of the aristocratic tables during the Renaissance: just think that Catherine de Medici brought to the French court the white truffle that grew in the Medicean Castle of Cafaggiolo in Barberino di Mugello (FI) in 1500s.
The practice of using truffles to give flavor to dishes spread in 1700s, once the habit of seasoning food with considerable quantities of spices was abandoned: this use catch on in various European courts, especially in France, where there was a predilection towards the Precious Black (Tuber melanosporum Vitt.) and in Italy where the consumption of White Truffle (Tuber magnatum Pico) was established.
Nowdays the truffle fame is very strong too: it is considered one of the finest foods ever, one of haute cuisine professionals’ favorite.
CARLO VITTADINI (botanist and mycologist) wrote “Monographia Tuberacearum” (1831) where for the first time he scientifically classified the different truffle species, so that many truffles contain in their scientific name the Vittadini abbreviation (Vitt.).
GIOACCHINO ROSSINI, a great truffle lover, used it in numerous dishes: the most famous remains “Filetto alla Rossini” (Rossini fillet).
COUNT CAMILLO BENSO DI CAVOUR often required truffle for official menus, and therefore the precious tuber promoted the diplomatic relationships with foreign countries.
There are nine varieties of truffles in Italy which are edible but only six which are widely available: Bianco pregiato, Nero pregiato, Scorzone, Marzuolo, Invernale, and Nero liscio.
Aroma is oh-so important as it heavily influences your sense of taste. White truffles have a “balanced and delicate scent of garlic, hay, and honey” and should never be cooked. Their taste is subliminal when freshly shaved over risotto, pasta, or scrambled eggs.
Black truffles, on the other hand, weave their earthy flavour into dishes during the cooking process, like with cheese fondue or juicy roasts. They can also be grated fresh over pasta, eggs, or sautéed mushrooms on toasted croutons.
Infuse softened, unsalted butter with finely grated truffles to savour with a fresh, crusty baguette, baked potatoes, or to brush over meat before serving.
Full bodied red wines pair well with truffle dishes and in Piedmont, you’ll no doubt find just what you’re looking for at any of the region’s intimate boutique wineries.
White truffle (Tuber Magnatum Pico)
The white truffle (Tuber Magnatum Pico) is the most widely known truffle because of its taste and commercial importance.
It has a globular shape, with numerous depressions on the peridium that make it irregular. The outer surface is smooth and slightly velvety. The colour varies from pale cream to dark cream to greenish. Its flesh is unmistakable and it is white or greyish yellow with thin white veins. It smells pleasantly aromatic and contrary to other types of truffles it does not have a garlic-like smell.
This makes it unique. It lives in symbiosis with oak trees (in this case it takes a dark hazelnut colour), lime trees, poplars and willows (in this case it is almost white) and is rarely found in combination with other truffles. It also has red marks if it lives in symbiosis with the linden. The white truffle, to sprout and grow, needs special terrain with equally unique climatic conditions: Soil should be soft and wet for a better part of the year; soil must also be rich in Calcium and a good circulation of air is desirable. The collection is done from September to December.
Black Truffle (Tuber Melanosporum Vitt.)
The Tuber melanosporum (black truffle from Norcia and Spoleto), exquisite and delicate taste, is the truffle which is well-known in the world.
The peridium looks like a black warty surface, with small reddish spots if the product is immature.
The Glebe is black-brown colored with light very thick whitish veins. The fragrance is aromatic, not too pungent, and delicate flavor.
The Melanosporum characteristic soils are calcareous and limestone-marl, permeable, from the breakup of the Cretaceous and Jurassic rocks.
You can find the truffle lands where to coltivate the Black Truffle from an height ranging from 250 to 1000 a.s.l, with different exposure at different altitudes.
The plants in nature are with which it are well enters in symbiosis: the Downy Oak, Cerro, Holm Oak, hazel and hornbeam.
Widespread in Central Apennines, in Piedmont and Veneto. It can be grown in suitable land specially reforested with particular tree species.
The sales period of the black truffle is limited between the months of November and February.
Scorzone or Black Summer Truffle (Tuber Aestivum Vitt.)
The Summer truffles or the so called Scorzone, can grow up in very different environments, because it is the fungus that best suits the climatic conditions.
It develops on soils with abundant content of limestone and permeable, enduring the prolonged summer drought, from sea coasts to 1000 meters of altitude.
The peridium has a black color, with bulging warts, large, making it recognizable among other. The Glebe is hazel with numerous whitish veins, more or less subtle.
The fragrance is gentler to other blacks truffles and flavor reminiscent of mushrooms.
The harvest of these fungus starts in May continuing until September-October growing very often on the surface of the ground. The symbiont tree species par excellence are Holm oaks, hornbeam, hazel, Cerro, Pine Home and Pino D’Aleppo.
The area of distribution of this truffle is very large, and in Italy you will find it anywhere. The summer truffle aroma is soft, pleasant and delicate, it is a less valuable truffle than the white truffle and black truffle.
The sales period of this truffle is throughout the summer, from late May to late August.
Bianchetto (Tuber Borchii Vitt.)
The Tuber Borchii is spread throughout the Italian peninsula, from coastal areas on sandy soils, where is particularly abundant, from over 1000 meters a.s.l. in limestone and clay soils.
The peridot is smooth and the color can vary between white ocher and burnt orange or very dark. The gleba is whitish at first, then with maturity it takes on a reddish-brown color. It presents veins rather wide but sparse, branched, whitish which then turn brown, with the passage of time.
The scent is penetrating and reminds to garlic, and its taste, not particularly pleasant, sometimes makes the product indigestible even after cooking.
It is one of the rustic defined truffles, whose price is lower than the famed white truffle and prized black. Despite the affordable price, it is able to make special and tastly even the simplest recipes with its characteristic aroma that can also flavor the salad or the homemade broth.
Sale: from January 15 to April 30 about.
Brumale or Black winter Truffle (Tuber Brumale Vitt.)
The black winter truffle is better known as Brumale, and its harvest is concentrated mainly in the months from November to mid-March.
The peridium appears warty, consisting of small black little thin warts and flat with a diameter ranging from 2 up to 9 cm. Istead, the Glebe is clear with brownish gray color, marbled, crossed by a maze of sharp lines in two main colors: white and gray, large and sparse.
The ideal habitats for brumale truffle are the great hardwood forests, or the very rich soils of oak from which the truffle derives nourishment and through which obtains the organoleptic characteristics that make its scent and color so special.
Usually it is located at a depth varying between 5 and 30 cm.
Its ideal ground is very chalky, but Brumale can also born in other types of soil and altitudes lower than those needed for a massive wooded development.
The sales period of this truffle is from December to mid-March.
Uncinatum Truffle (Tuber uncinatum Chatin)
The fresh Uncinatum Truffle (Tuber uncinatum Chatin), also called Winter Scorzone, owes its name to the hook-shaped ridges present in the spores.
It has a peridium made up of several small black and less marked warts than the scorzone.
The Glebe is nutty colored, crossed by white thin veins highly branched. It has a variable shape, rounded but also with crushed basically smaller than the other truffle.
The sales period is from October to December.
The Uncinatum is often used in cooking: the tasty aroma makes it suitable for the most different applications, both raw and cooked version.
It is very similar to scorzone truffle, that, according to some experts, would be its autumn version of the same variety. The differences, not always easy to perceive, are linked to the appearance of truffles (peridium, glebe, shape and size), the fragrance and, above all, to the late ripening period.