A Bit of Truffle HistoryMarketing Team Premium Food Delivery
The truffle is a fruit of the earth that has been known since ancient times.
The earliest written records date back to 1600-1700 BC, to the time of the Sumerians and the patriarch Jacob.
The ancient Sumerians used truffles mixed with other vegetables such as barley, chickpeas, lentils, and mustard, while the ancient Athenians are said to have adored truffles so much that they gave citizenship to the sons of Cherippo for inventing a new recipe.
Plutarch ventured the highly original claim that the ‘tuber’ was created by the combined action of water, heat, and lightning. Such theories, which were also shared or disputed by Pliny, Martial, Juvenal, and Galen, only led to lengthy diatribes.
In all likelihood, their ‘tuber terrae’ was not the fragrant truffle we are dealing with today, but the ‘terfezia Leanis’ (Terfezia Arenaria) or similar species. They were then more abundant than today in North Africa and Western Asia, weighing up to three to four kilograms. Understandably, they were highly prized (to the point of being called ‘the food of the gods), since tubers of American origin, such as the potato and Jerusalem artichoke, were unknown at the time.
The Tuber magnatum Pico never became part of the refined Roman recipes, despite the fact that Rome also had as emperor a citizen of Alba, Publius Elvius Pertinace. The truffles that delighted the palates of the Roman patricians were only poor in quality because the price was extremely high. The writer Apicius in his ‘De Re Coquinaria’ included six truffle recipes in Book VII, the one that dealt with the most expensive dishes.
Meanwhile, studies on truffles multiplied. Pliny the Elder described it as the ‘callus of the earth’, while Juvenal was so infatuated with it that he stated that ‘it was better that there should be a shortage of wheat than truffles’.
Throughout the Middle Ages, the truffle avoided man’s frugal tables and remained the food of wolves, foxes, badgers, pigs, boars, and mice. The Renaissance revived the taste for good food and the truffle took its place among the most refined dishes. The prized black truffle appeared on the tables of French lords between the 14th and 15th centuries, while the white truffle was becoming established in Italy at that time.
In the 18th century, the Piedmontese truffle was considered a delicacy at all European courts.
The search for truffles was a palace fun foreign guests and ambassadors visiting Turin were invited to attend.
This may have given rise to the custom of using an elegant animal such as a dog for the search, instead of the pig, which is mainly used in France.
At the end of the 17th and beginning of the 18th century, the Italian rulers’ Victor Amadeus II and Charles Emmanuel III enjoyed organizing truffle-harvesting expeditions. An interesting episode concerns a truffle expedition that took place in 1751 and was organized by Charles Emmanuel III at the Royal House of England. During the day, several truffles were found, but they were of extremely lower value than those from Piedmont.
Count Camillo Benso di Cavour used the truffle as a diplomatic tool during his political activities, and the composer Gioacchino
Rossini called it ‘The Mozart of mushrooms’, Lord Byron kept it on his desk so that the scent would help him awaken his creativity and Alexandre Dumas called it the Sancta Santorum of the table.
In 1780, the first book on the White Truffle of Alba was published in Milan, christened Tuber magnatum Pico (Magnatum – meaning of the ‘magnates’, for wealthy people, while Pico refers to Piedmontese Vittorio Pico, the first scholar to work on its classification).
A naturalist from Pavia’s botanical garden, Dr. Carlo Vittadini, published in Milan in 1831 the ‘Monographia Tuberacearum’, the first work that laid the foundations of hydrology, the science of studying truffles, describing 51 different species.
The study of hypogeous fungi was later deepened by Italian researchers and at present, the best study centers are located in Italy, particularly in Piedmont.