I am obsessed with the black pearls of the earth, as they’re sometimes known, but maybe not as much as devotee as Oprah Winfrey, who walks around with truffle salt in her bag. To be completely honest, I’ve had my fair share of truffles, whether they’re dipped in butter or oil, shaved on pasta, served on a juicy burger or even scrambled with eggs. There’s even a truffle popcorn recipe I might try next! So, to welcome you into the wonderful world of truffles I have four cool facts about this remarkable mushroom that I bet you didn’t know!
The Allure of Truffles
The truffle obsession isn’t for everyone; my husband and son chooses to sit on the other side of the table, as far away from my dish as possible, because one whiff of it is enough to give them a gagging fit. But for many generations before and after me, what is powerfully irresistible about truffles is its woody aroma and rich, exquisite taste.
The Truffle Story
It started right in the living roots of the chestnut, oak, hazel and birch trees. The word truffle means tuber in Latin, which is an outgrowth. But there is also a myth that these mushrooms came from the ground after lightning struck the earth. In any case they date back to as early as the ancient Egyptians, who held them in high regard and ate them coated in goose fat. Their history, however, is often filled with mystery, superstition and even damnation. When a farmer noticed his pigs feasting heartily on the subterranean mushroom, he decided to try them himself and ended up with thirteen kids. That was after a long spell of not being able to bear children. So the mushroom quickly developed a reputation for supernatural qualities, with some seeing them as God’s gift to humanity.
Truffles in Ancient Times
The Greeks and Romans believed in truffles’ health properties for body and soul. Truffles saw a dark side during the Middle Ages, when they were banished by the church because of their heady aroma and exotic taste, as some considered them a creation of the devil. As a result of this most people chose to stay away from them. But the truffle drought didn’t last long thanks to the reign of Louis XIV, who not only brought them back with a vengeance, but also highlighted them as one of Europe’s most sought-after delicacies. The king was so fascinated by the wonderful truffle, he tried to cultivate it but wasn’t successful. By the mid 1800’s truffles saw production levels of over 2,000 tons, while the 1960’s saw a major output of less than 400 tons. Today, it’s now one of the most profitable crops you can grow, with harvesters and consumers mostly in France.
Different Types of Truffles
The black summer truffles found throughout Europe, are used to enhance a dish visually. But their flavor and fragrance doesn’t come close to the white or Perigord truffles, which are known as white diamonds because of their expensive price tag. The Burgundy truffles are more flavorful and aromatic than the summer truffles while the Bianchetto truffles are a white truffle found in Italy and Spain that are not as expensive and that come with a garlicky smell. All varieties of truffle look more impressive shaved than they do whole. You wouldn’t think so from their appearance, but white truffles, for instance, can cost as much due 620 per ounce!