body) of truffles is highly prized as food. In 1825 Brillat-Savarin
called the truffle "the diamond of the kitchen" and praised its aphrodisiac powers. (Physiology
of Taste Meditation vi). While the aphrodisiac characteristics of truffles
have not been established, it is still held in high esteem in colloquial French
and northern Italian cooking, and in international haute cuisine.
truffle cut in slices
of their high price and their pungent taste, truffles are used sparingly. Paper-thin
truffle slices may be inserted in meats, under the skins of roasted
fowl, in foie gras
preparations, in pâtés, or in stuffings. Truffle oil is an
economical and popular way to enjoy their flavor.
flavor of black truffles can be compared to Gorgonzola cheese, but
with an earthy/cooked mushroom base note and without dairy notes. No description,
however, has every fully sufficed to make their flavor imaginable without having
tasted them in some quantity.
long eluded techniques of domestication, as Brillat-Savarin noted with his characteristic
most learned men have sought to ascertain the secret, and fancied they discovered
the seed. Their promises, however, were vain, and no planting was ever followed
by a harvest. This perhaps is all right, for as one of the great values of truffles
is their dearness, perhaps they would be less highly esteemed if they were cheaper.
my friend," said I, "a superb lace is about to be manufactured at a very low price."
replied she, "think you, if it be cheap, that any one would wear it?" (Brillat-Savarin,
contrary to stubborn legends, truffles can be cultivated. As early as 1808, there
were successful attempts to cultivate truffles, known in French as trufficulture.
Men had long observed that truffles were growing among the roots of certain trees,
under oak trees in particular, and
indeed scientific research has proven that the truffles live in symbiosis with
the host tree. In 1808, Joseph
Talon, from Apt (département of Vaucluse) in southern
France, had the
idea to sow some acorns collected at the foot of
oak trees known to host truffles in their root system. The experiment was successful:
years later, truffles were found in the soil around the newly grown oak trees.
In 1847, Auguste
Rousseau of Carpentras (in Vaucluse) planted
7 hectares (17 acres) of oak trees (again from acorns found on the soil around
truffle-producing oak trees), and he subsequently obtained large harvests of truffles.
He received a prize at the 1855 World's
Fair in Paris.
successful attempts were met with enthusiasm in southern France, which possessed
the sweet limestone soils and dry hot weather that truffles need to grow. In the
late 19th century, a dramatic epidemic of phylloxera destroyed much of
the vineyards in southern France. Another epidemic destroyed most of the silkworms in southern
France, making the fields of mulberry trees useless. Thus,
large tracts of land were set free for the cultivation of truffles. Thousands
of truffle-producing trees were planted, and production reached peaks of hundreds
of tonnes at the
end of the 19th century. In 1890 there were 750 km² (185,000 acres) of truffle-producing
20th century however, with the growing industrialization of France and the subsequent
rural exodus, many of these
truffle fields (champs truffiers or truffières) returned to wilderness.
The First World War also dealt
a serious blow to the French countryside, killing 20% or more of the male working
force. As a consequence of all these events, newly acquired techniques of trufficulture
were lost. Also, between the two world wars, the truffle fields planted in the
19th century stopped being productive. (The average life cycle of a truffle-producing
tree is 30 years.) Consequently, after 1945 the production of truffles plummeted,
and the prices have skyrocketed, reaching the zenith that we know today. In 1900
truffles were used by most people, and on many occasions. Nowadays, they are a
rare delicacy reserved for the rich, or used on very special occasions.
the last 30 years, new attempts for a mass production of truffles have been started.
Eighty percent of the truffles now produced in France come from specially planted
truffle-fields. Nonetheless, production has yet to recover its 1900's peaks. The
countryside in southern France is largely depopulated, with a lot of the lands
in the hands of the descendants of the farmers. These descendants live in towns
and cities and feel mostly unconcerned by the countryside. Local farmers are also
opposed to a return of mass production, which would decrease the price of truffles.
However, prospects for a mass production are immense. It is currently estimated
that the world market could absorb 50 times more truffles than France currently
produces. There are now truffle-growing areas in Spain, Sweden, New Zealand and
for truffles in open ground is almost always carried with specially trained pigs
or dogs. Pigs were the most
used in the past, but nowadays farmers prefer to use dogs, which do not eat the
are various forms of truffles, even within France.
consider that the best truffle is the Tuber melanosporum (black truffle),
which comes almost only from Europe, essentially France (45% of production),
then also Spain (35%), and Italy (20%). Small productions are
also found in Slovenia and Croatia. In 1900, France produced
around 1,000 metric tonnes (1,100 short tons) of Tuber melanosporum. Production
has considerably diminished in one century, and nowadays production is usually
around 20 metric tonnes (22 short tons) per year, with peaks at 46 metric tonnes
(50 short tons) in the best years. 80% of the French production comes from southeast
France: upper-Provence (départements of Vaucluse and Alpes-de-Haute-Provence),
part of Dauphiné (département of Drôme), and part of
Languedoc (département of Gard); 20% of the production comes
from southwest France: Quercy (département of Lot) and Perigord (département of Dordogne), the
latter historically the most famous, but now in complete decline and superseded
by Quercy. The largest truffle market in France (and probably also in the world)
is at Richerenches
The largest truffle market in southwest France is at Lalbenque
in Quercy. These
markets are busiest in the month of January when the black truffles have their
highest perfume. Black truffles on these markets sell between 200 and 600€ per kilogram ($110–$330
per pound), depending if its a bad or a good year for harvest.
Piedmont (northern Italy), mild-flavored
white truffles (Tuber magnatum,) are met with, which are very highly esteemed
Chinese truffle (Tuber sinensis, also sometimes called Tuber indicum)
is mass harvested in China. It visually looks like the
Tuber melanosporum, but its taste is bland, and its texture is chewy. Due
to their low price, Chinese truffles are often exported to the West, but they
should not be confused with Tuber melanosporum. Some truffle exporters
or delicatessen shops sell Chinese truffles in which extracts of the real Tuber
melanosporum are introduced. These fraudulent truffles are sold at a high
price, pretending they are real Tuber melanosporum. Such practices are
illegal, but unfortunately quite frequent. Another type of Chinese truffle is
the Tuber himalayensis, which visually looks so much like the Tuber
melanosporum that a microscope is needed to differentiate them, but whose
taste is not as intense as the Tuber melanosporum. The Tuber himalayensis,
however, is harvested in very small quantities in the Chinese Himalayas,
and is not as frequently met on world markets as the Tuber sinensis. Finally,
the third type of Chinese truffle is the Chinese summer white truffle, which does
not have a scientific name yet. This truffle should not be confused with the much
more expensive and less tasty Italian Tuber magnatum.
Romans knew truffles. However, although Italy produced the Tuber melanosporum
and the Tuber magnatum, the Romans only used the terfez
(Terfezia bouderi), a mushroom which resembles truffles, which the Romans
called a truffle, and which is sometimes called a "desert truffle", but is not
actually a truffle. Terfez used in Rome came from Greece and especially from Libya,
where the coastal climate was less dry in ancient times. Their substance is pale,
tinged with rose. Unlike truffles, terfez have no taste of their own. The Romans
used the terfez as a carrier of flavor, because the terfez have the property to
absorb surrounding flavors. Indeed, Roman cuisine used a lot of spices and flavors,
and terfez were perfect in that context.
only trace of truffles in Medieval cooking is at the court of the popes in Avignon; though
perhaps the black and subterranean truffles were avoided elsewhere as satanic,
the papal kitchens adopted them when the popes relocated to Avignon, near the
producing regions of upper-Provence. Truffles were honored
at the court of King Francis I of France.
However, it was not until the 17th century that Western (and in particular French)
cuisine abandoned "heavy" oriental spices, and rediscovered the natural flavor
of foodstuffs. Truffles were very popular in Paris markets in the 1780s, imported
seasonally from truffle grounds, where peasants had long enjoyed their secret.
They were so expensive they appeared only at the dinner tables of great nobles
—and kept women, Brillat-Savarin noted characteristically. The greatest delicacy
was a truffled turkey. "I have wept three times in my life," Rossini admitted. "Once
when my first opera failed. Once again, the first time I heard Paganini play
the violin. And once when a truffled turkey fell overboard at a boating picnic."
of chocolate truffles
is also a chocolate confection, which is named
after its physical resemblance with a black truffle.