The first mention of truffles appears in the inscriptions of the neo-Sumerians regarding their Amorite enemy’s eating habits (Third Dynasty of Ur, 20th century BCE). In classical times their origins were a mystery: Plutarch thought them to be the result of lightning, warmth and water in the soil, while Juvenal thought thunder and rain to be instrumental in their origin. Cicero called them children of the earth.
The origin of the word truffle appears to be the Latin term tūber, meaning “swelling” or “lump”, which became tufer-.
Where are they from?
A truffle is a fungus that grows underground. They can grow on a number of tree roots, but most commonly hazelnut and oak. Here in Australia the roots are inoculated with truffle spores before being planted. It takes up to 5 years after planting before a well trained dog or pig might locate the first truffle. Truffle season is winter.
The most expensive and exclusive type of truffles are white Alba truffles that grow mainly in Northern Italy. They have a very intense aroma and can grow up to 12 cm.
Do they have any health benefits?
A good truffle has an addictive musky, earthy scent. It’s a flavour enhancer.
What do they go with?
Although it is expensive on a per kilo basis, you don’t need a lot of it, and you don’t want to put it with any other fancy foods, otherwise the sublety of it is lost. It’s best with light flavours like scrambled eggs, pasta, and roast chicken. So spend on the truffle, save on the accompaniments 🙂
And here are some tips from the Agrarian Kitchen in Tasmania:
- Truffle and dairy work because the dairy’s lactic acid unlocks the truffle’s flavour.
- Black truffle in dessert is worth exploring – it tastes almost like vanilla and cocoa.
The fun fact
Australia is now the world’s fourth-largest producer of truffles. There are about 250 truffle growers around the country, with most in WA and the rest in Victoria, Tasmania, NSW and the ACT. We produce about 10 tonnes of truffle each year, about 85 per cent of which is exported.
AND Napoleon ate truffles to increase his masculinity ie as an aphrodisiac. Apparently the gastronome Jean-Anthelme Brillat-Savarin said in 1825:
“Truffles, as soon as the word is spoken, it awakens lustful and erotic memories among the skirt-wearing sex and erotic and lustful memories among the beard-wearing sex. This honorable parallelism comes not only from the fact that this esteemed tuber is delicious, but also because it is still believed to bring about potency, the exercise of which brings sweet pleasure”.
Apparently most ‘truffle oil’ does not contain ANY truffles. Harumph. They are mostly olive oil flavoured with some kind of synthetic agent. Honestly! Vanilla essence with no vanilla, truffle oil with no truffles. Who do you trust, friends? Who??