WHAT ARE TRUFFLES
Truffle’s biological cycle (Picture from the manual “Regione Piemonte per sostenere l’esame abilitazione alla ricerca del tartufo” –Regione Piemonte to undergo the qualifying examination for truffle hunting-www.regione.piemonte.it).
Truffles are an underground fungi (hypogeous) belonging to the Ascomycota division, divided into several species and gathered according to their category and family. The most important truffle belongs to the Tuber category. Truffles are not to be confused with tubers, which have a particular shape of stem, like a potato. Truffle defines both the general fungus and its fruitbody (sporocarp), which is what is hunted and sold. The outer part of the fruitbody is called peridium, a thin peel, which can be either smooth or rough, according to species. Colour can vary as well from ocher to light pink and even very dark brown, almost black, according to both species as well as ripening. The inner part, less solid than peridium, is called gleba and characterizes each kind in detail. As a matter of fact, it has different winding veinings, resulting from the filaments of mycelium, which diversify according to the type and colour.
Inside the gleba veinings define alveoli, where cellular structures called asci are embedded. Asci contain spores, which create new mycelia by germinating. New micelia can touch other root tips. Truffles, like other fungi, are chlorophyll-free, so they cannot produce the organic substance for their development by themselves. Generally, truffles take the necessary organic substance from trees and establish mutual symbiosis with them. In fact, both of them gain advantages from such relation. Symbiosis takes place within roots by means of hyphae, long cellular filaments making up the mycelium, namely the vegetative part of the fungi. Hyphae intertwine with tree radicles and weave into the first cell layers of roots creating a crisscross framework. From Mycohrriza many hyphae expand so that the fungus can search for more terrain and absorb nutrients. The fungus absorbs organic substances produced by the plant, while the plant absorbs water and mineral salts more easily through the thick filament net. Truffle develops underground all through its life cycle and depth varies from 5 to 30 cm and more. Truffle reproduces by means of spores, which create mycelium. Mycelium micorrizes in turn other plant’s roots. From mycelium a fruitbody can develop, if particular climate and terrain conditions occur, the cycle is completed. Filament net of mycelium is not easily distinguishable. As a matter of fact, the fruitbody is often isolated. Truffles shape is generally spherical, more or less irregular, and size can vary from hazelnut to fist size, according to species, with several exceptions. Size depends on the climate and the kind of terrain, where truffle develops. (From the manual “Regione Piemonte per sostenere l’esame abilitazione alla ricerca del tartufo” –Regione Piemonte undergo the qualifying examination for truffle hunting- www.regione.piemonte.it).
Truffles have been known for a very long time. However, we don’t know for sure whether the historians of antiquity referred to the same truffles, or other hypogeal fungi. It is therefore just a theory that the Sumerians and Jewish, ca. 1700-1600 b.C., consumed truffles. The first mention appears in the Naturalis Historia by Pliny the Elder (79 A.D.). The anecdotes told show that truffles, Tuber in Latin, were greatly appreciated by the Romans, who certainly learned about their culinary use from the Etruscans. In the first century, the philosopher Plutarch of Cheronea introduced the idea that this precious fungus originated from the combined action of water, warmth and lightning. Many later poets derived inspiration from this idea. Juvenal, for example, explained its origin as the result of lightning thrown by Jove near an Oak, a tree sacred to the Father of all gods. Also, due to Jove’s well-known power of seduction, aphrodisiac properties have always been ascribed to truffles. (Text from site www.tuber.it)
MIDDLE AGES AND RENAISSANCE
For a long time, naturalists had divergent opinions about truffle classification. Some classified it as a plant, others as a growth of the soil and even an animal! Aside from the various beliefs, truffles were highly appreciated, especially by the nobles and high priests. Some scientists of that time described the truffle aroma as a sort of quintessence producing ecstatic effects on human beings: the sublime synthesis of the satisfaction of all senses as the representation of a superior pleasure.
EUGENIO AGNELLO called the genius with a Tuber Magnatum Pico of grams 1.340 year 1971
THE PIEDMONTESE AND ALBA TRUFFLES
In 1700 the Piedmontese truffle was considered a delicacy by the European nobility. Composer Gioacchino Rossini was among the admirers of this “fruit of the earth” and referred to it as the “Mozart of all mushrooms”. The Piedmontese white truffle was considered the most prestigious, but it is only in 1900 that the Truffle of Alba became world famous,thanks to Giacomo Morra and his brilliant promotional ideas. Giacomo, hotelier and restaurateur in Alba, was rightfully “crowned” the King of Truffles in 1933 by The Times.
THE TRUFFLE FROM TURIN’S HILLS
Despite truffle’s old origins, early scientific studies were performed just starting from the 18th century, to be exact in 1788, when the Latin name Tuber Magnatum was created. The Turinese physician Dott. Vittorio Pico invented such a name defining the white truffle as “truffle for magnates”.
The House of Savoy greatly loved truffles and sent them as a “diplomatic gift” to all other Courts in Europe. They used to invite friends and influential people to take part in their truffle hunting in Turin’s hills. Thus, they started a new trend among the European noble families and the white truffle myth began.
An abundant amount of truffles can be found in the area around Turin, starting from its wonderful parks with very old trees, which have been producing the renowned white Alba truffle for hundreds of years (we remind you that Alba is the truffle’s classification and not the origin). Then in the magnificent hill area, where truffle hunters find both white and black truffles in the valley floors. Lastly in Rivalba, a gorgeous village, where Turin’s hills white truffle fair has been taking place for many years now and has become a national exhibition. (Text from site www.tuber.it)
“Fin da bambino seguivo mio nonno che oltre ad essere cacciatore, era trifulè come si dice in torinese, tartufaio. Lo vedevo uscire di casa al mattino presto, quando era ancora buio, per recarsi, segretamente, con i suoi cani fidati nelle valli circostanti alla ricerca del prezioso Tuber Magnatum Pico (tartufo bianco pregiato). La passione di mio nonno era, oltre la ricerca, l’addestramento dei cani da tartufo, passione che mi ha trasmesso dopo avermi insegnato passo per passo”
I Sapori della Collina di Torino di Luca Bannò