Spread the love

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.

TRUFFLE CHARACTERS

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.

TRUFFLE IN THE ANCIENT WORLD

The first testimony in Europe can be found in the Naturalis Historia by Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD). The anecdotes reveal that the truffle, in Latin called terrae tuber (outgrowth of the earth) or, simply, tuber, was much appreciated at the table by the ancient Romans, who copied its culinary use from ancient Etruscans. The Greeks used truffle in the kitchen, as demonstrated by the philosopher Plutarch of Chaeronea who stated, in the I century AD, that the rare and precious fungus was born from a combination of natural elements such as water, heat and lightning. This theory inspired the poet Juvenal, according to whom truffles originated from a thunderbolt hurled to earth by an oak tree by the father of the gods, Jupiter. In addition to this legend, since Jupiter was known for his prodigious sexual activity, truffles were considered highly aphrodisiac. Due to this power, another legend says that truffle was dedicated to the goddess Venus by Pagans. Despite the valuable fungus being treated by scholars, philosophers and poets in their writings, the origin of the truffle was never established. That’s why little knowledge, combined with popular beliefs, made it a common tale that truffle was a corrupt outgrowth of the soil, and food of the devil and witches.

THE RENAISSANCE

We lose track of truffles in the Middle Ages until the Renaissance, when we find them at the table of the noble Caterina de’ Medici and Lucrezia Borgia, and at the most prestigious banquets all over Europe. The first treaty dedicated entirely to truffles, “Opusculus de tuberis”, was written in 1564 by the Umbrian doctor Alfonso Ciccarelli. In the same century, Andrea Cesalpino lists for the first time truffles among mushrooms. In the Europe of this period, truffle was also called “garlic of the riches”, for its smell, slightly similar to the plant. In Piedmont, in the 1600s, it was widely used to imitate consumption of France. Unlike the trans- Alpine state, where black truffles were found, Piedmont region had white ones. A century later, the white truffle of Piedmont was considered one of the most valuable by all the courts of Europe. In fact, truffle hunting was considered a Palace entertainment to which guests and foreign ambassadors were invited.

UNTIL THE BEGINNING OF THE ‘900s

In the ‘700s, Count de Borch publishes a monograph on truffles called “Lettres sur les truffes du Piemont”, while in 1788 Vittorio Pico describes white truffles calling them by the name of Tuber Magnatum. It is however only in 1831 that the precious underground fungus obtained the first scientific description, thanks to “Monographia Tuberacearum” written by Carlo Vittadini. In this book, the Italian botanist and mycologist describes many varieties of truffle, and many still bear his name (Tuber melanosporum Vittad, Tuber aestivum Vittad, Tuber Brumale Vittad etc…). Idnologia (from the greek Hydnon), the science that studies truffles, was born with the publication of this book. After that, the next historic date is 1929, with one of the key personalities of the world of truffles: Giacomo Morra. The well-known restaurateur and hotelier of Alba had the brilliant idea to make white truffle (called by him “Truffle of Alba”) an object of worship internationally, creating an event around the precious mushroom to attract both tourists and gourmets. Besides that, he also had the idea of sending every year a precious truffle to a famous person such as the US President Harry Truman in 1951, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill in 1953, sportsman Joe DiMaggio and American actress Marylyn Monroe in 1954.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *