The truffle is the rarest, most precious fruit of the earth. The diamond of the kitchen since ancient times thanks to its extraordinary organoleptic qualities, it is a hypogeous fungus in the form of a tuber (Tuber genus, Tuberaceae family) and grows naturally near the roots of trees, such as the oak, hazelnut, hornbeam and durmast, with which it establishes a symbiotic relationship.
It consists of a fleshy interior, known as the gleba, surrounded by a cortical layer called the peridio or skin. It contains a high percentage of water, fibre and mineral salts, which it absorbs from the earth via the roots of the host plant. The hunt for truffles is an ancient art which follows the rhythms of nature. A truffle hunter is always accompanied by a dog trained to look for truffles and this training takes about four or five years. Any type of dog can be potentially suitable, even though the only breed recognised for its ability to find the truffle is the Lagotto Romagnolo. In the past, the truffle was harvested using pigs. However, this method has long since been abandoned. The hunter must have an ID card which authorises him to search in certain areas. He must show respect for the natural environment and other people’s property.
When the truffle reaches the correct point of maturity, it releases its characteristic scent. This is the moment the dog manages to detect it. Once the area has been identified, the hunter uses a special “trowel” to unearth the fruit. After harvesting, he replaces the clods of earth he has removed, which is essential for the tuber to form new little roots and to grow once again in the same places. Every truffle has its own particular fragrance, generated by an incredible mixture of substances, which becomes increasingly intense as it ripens.
There are dozens of truffle species throughout the world. However, the majority are inedible either because they are poisonous or because they have an unpleasant taste.
Only 9 of the species found in Italy can be consumed.
-Tuber Melanosporum, Vitt. > is the Winter Prized Black Truffle. This species exudes a very pleasant, aromatic aroma and is widespread throughout Umbria.
-Tuber Magnatum, Pico > is the Prized White Truffle, a truffle of greater value thanks to the intense, delicate aroma it exudes.
-Tuber Aestivum, Vitt. and Tuber Uncinatum, Chatin > are the Summer Truffle, known as “Scorzone”, and the Winter truffle. They are very similar in shape but are harvested at different times of the year.
-Tuber Albidum, Pico or Tuber Borchii, Vitt. > called “bianchetto”, or “marzuolo”.
-Tuber Brumale, Vitt. and Tuber Brumale, Vitt. var. Moschatum, De ferry > that is the “Brumale” truffle and “Moscato” truffle.
-Tuber Macrosporum, Vitt. > is the smooth black truffle.
-Tuber Mesentericum Vitt. > is the common black truffle or “Bagnoli” black truffle.
THE TRUFFLE IN HISTORY
Naturalists, philosophers and scientists have shown an interest in truffles from ancient times. So it is no surprise to find that the first book to be printed on mycology, the Opusculum de Tuberibus by Alfonso Ceccarelli of Bevagna (1564), spoke of truffles.
Almost two thousand years before, the Greek philosopher, Theophrastus, had begun a debate claiming that truffles were vegetables without roots, which grew during the winter rainy period accompanied by thunder. The Romans were unable to resist them and the Latin poets, Apicio and Giovenale, sang their praises and dictated the rules for cooking them. During the Renaissance, it was the jewel in the kitchens of the sophisticated, lordly courts. Rossini defined it as “the Mozart of the kitchen” and the story goes that Napoleon used it profusely to ensure an heir.
As regards its origins and botanical appearance, however, the strangest of interpretations lingered until half way through 1800. Only after mid-1800 did people begin to completely accept the idea that truffles were autonomous organisms, that is to say fungi. Umbria possesses a rich hypogeous flora and for centuries has held the national record for the production of truffles, especially as regards the winter prized black truffle (Tuber Melanosporum Vitt.).