Truffles: The Season’s Most Exclusive Delicacy
Wild yet highly sophisticated. Not much to look at till you dust off the soil that clings to them and catch a whiff of those unbelievable aromas – so intense the tiniest shaving transfigures even a simple country dish (think cornmeal polenta) into sumptuous fare fit for a king.
There’s a reason truffles are the world’s most expensive food: this unique tuber is hard to find and harder to harvest, impossible to grow… and to forget.
Truffles are nature’s gift. They can’t be forced, duplicated or mass-produced. Quantities available are minuscule, from tiny areas and temperate climes, very specific soil types and ambient conditions. Rainfall patterns, seasonal factors and changes in temperature are all inherently uncontrollable variables that affect their evolution and quality.
What Are Truffles?
Truffles are a species of fungus belonging to the genus Tuber. They grow wild underground, mostly near the roots of oak trees. Their hyphae (rootlike filaments that interact with the host plant) provide the trees with extra water and nutrient absorption while getting sugar from the trees – what is called a symbiotic relationship.
There are many different species in the truffle family. The best known are the black truffle (Tuber melanosporum) and the white truffle (Tuber magnatum); other valued species are Tuber aestivum var. aestivum, aka summer truffle or scorzone, the bianchetto truffle (Tuber borchii), the burgundy truffle (T. aestivum var. uncinatum), the moscato truffle (Tuber brumale var. moschatum De Ferry) and numerous others.
History of Truffles
The origins of truffles as prized delicacies are lost in the mists of time, though scholars believe they were first mentioned in the Sumerian inscriptions of Mesopotamia four thousand years ago. Their mystique thrived in classical times, when the tuber’s genesis puzzled poets like Juvenal (who imagined they arose from a thunderbolt hurled by the god Jupiter) and natural scientists like Pliny the Elder, who – being of a less poetic turn of mind – merely stated it was one of the “marvels of Nature”, miraculously “spring[ing] up and grow[ing] without a root”.
The ancient Romans were likely introduced to its culinary value by their predecessors, the Etruscans, and truffles were no strangers to the ancient Greeks, either, as testified by Plutarch. The philosopher praised their much-touted aphrodisiac qualities, which modern science has found to be connected to their unique scent, similar to male pheromones: no wonder they were associated with the father of the gods (and of every philanderer under the sun!).
Truffle consumption was on hold in medieval times (they were, after all, the Dark Ages) but fittingly saw a rebirth during the Renaissance, when truffles featured in the most distinguished banquets of Europe, like King Louis XIV’s, Catherine de’ Medici’s and Lucrezia Borgia’s. A little later, in the 1700s, one particular species came to the forefront on the royal tables of Europe: the Piedmontese white truffle.
Truffles’ fame has never waned since: in the 1800s, composer Rossini called them “the Mozart of mushrooms” just as gastronome Brillat-Savarin dubbed them “the diamonds of cookery”. In the 1900s, the name game got serious, going from hyperbole to official appellation – in 1929, Piedmontese restaurateur Giacomo Morra decreed that Tuber magnatum Pico would thenceforward be known as Alba White Truffle. That was literally the “dawn” (Alba, the town and culinary capital of Piedmont’s truffle world, coincidentally means ‘sunrise’ in Italian) of one the most fascinating chapters in the tuber’s history. A chapter that is celebrated each year at the International Alba White Truffle Fair, whose 91st edition closed on Dec. 5th.
Ventuno ‘Hearts’ Truffles
Ventuno painstakingly selects the finest items from certified crops and sustainable agricultural practices, ensuring terroir and table – the soil and its fruit – are in complete harmony. Needless to say, this is all the truer with “the diamonds of cookery”, and we have chosen to showcase the unique qualities of Alba White Truffle in our Piedmontese Dinner Experience Box – namely, in a bottle of Extra Virgin Olive Oil Infused with Alba White Truffles from the historic brand, Tartufi Ponzio, founded in the truffle capital in 1947 and instrumental in establishing Tuber magnatum Pico as an international star.
If you wish to enjoy a multisensory journey on Piedmontese soil, you will find the ideal ingredients for a gourmet dinner – or lunch – in the Ventuno Experience Box, and be able to whip up some serious truffle glam with Tajarin with Truffles and Mushrooms, per the genuine Piedmontese recipe.