What truffles really are? Are they culinary diamonds, trapped in a body of an asymmetric tuber? Or they just want to look like diamonds in every way possible? One way or the other, tasting them is certainly an experience. A great number of erudite men were asked about the nature of this tuber, but after two thousand years of debates the answer is still the same: “We do not know.” And when asked about itself, the truffle says: “Taste me and you will be worshipping God,” as Alexandre Dumas wrote.
It is common knowledge that truffles were already known around 1600 B.C. among many civilizations, from the Sumerians, Chinese and Babylonians to the Egyptians, Greek and Ancient Romans. These weird tubers had many different names throughout history. The Arabs named it ramek, tomer or kemas, the Greek idra, the Romans first called it tuber (from tumere – swollen, round) and then tartufo. The French truffe (forgery), the British truffle, the Germans call it truffel. Whatever name they had, truffles have a rich history, divided primarily between culinary art, culture and literature.
This mysterious fruit had also inspired many poets. It was mentioned even by Shakespeare but became widely known after the publishing of Molière’s comedy Tartuffe. Rossini and Mozart enjoyed its fragrance too.
Truffles have always been considered something special in culinary history, but they also triggered different opinions. Gastronomists worshipped them as the food of the Gods that inspires the soul and enlivens the body. On the contrary, mental hygienists showed hostility, considering them very harmful. Truffles were seen as an explicit symbol of depravity. Debates about what truffles in fact are were held among botanists, physicians and culinary professionals.
“They can, on certain occasions, make women more tender and men more lovable.”
In the Middle Ages the erudite were still arguing whether a truffle is an animal or a plant, as it definitely doesn’t look like neither of the two. It was only in the 16th century that the idea of truffles being of vegetal descent finally prevailed.
It was thought that they are generated from juices flowing from the stem to the roots, where in times of storms, thunder and lightning, the truffles (or some kind of spherical roots) swell. In 1876 some botanist finally gained enough confidence to write in a science book that truffles belong to a species of bizarrely shaped subterranean mushrooms. Well…this statement is, in a botanical sense, still valid nowadays. Several dozens of truffle species have been discovered since then, and they are basically differentiated as black and white.
The most famous white truffles in our region are Tuber magnatum, Tuber borchii and Tuber asa. Black truffles are divided in different species such as Tuber Aestivum Vitt,Tuber ubicatum, Tuber melanosporum and so on.