HISTORY OF THE TRUFFLE
The truffle, a precious underground fungus, has ancient origins if you think that some scholars believe that this rare product of the earth was already known and consumed at the time of the Sumerians (mixed with vegetables and legumes) and Babylonians (IV -II millennium BC).
TRUFFLE IN THE ANCIENT WORLD
The first testimony in Europe can be found in the Naturalis Historia by Pliny the Elder (23-79 AD). The anecdotes reveal that the truffle, in Latin called terrae tuber ( an outgrowth of the earth) or, simply, tuber, was much appreciated at the table by the ancient Romans, who copied its culinary use from ancient Etruscans. The Greeks used truffle in the kitchen, as demonstrated by the philosopher Plutarch of Chaeronea who stated, in the I century AD, that the rare and precious fungus was born from a combination of natural elements such as water, heat, and lightning. This theory inspired the poet, Juvenal, according to whom truffles originated from a thunderbolt hurled to earth by an oak tree by the father of the gods, Jupiter. In addition to this legend, since Jupiter was known for his prodigious sexual activity, truffles were considered highly aphrodisiac. Due to this power, another legend says that truffle was dedicated to the goddess Venus by Pagans. Despite the valuable fungus being treated by scholars, philosophers and poets in their writings, the origin of the truffle was never established. That’s why little knowledge, combined with popular beliefs, made it a common tale that truffle was a corrupt outgrowth of the soil, and food of the devil and witches.
We lose track of truffles in the Middle Ages until the Renaissance, when we find them at the table of the noble Caterina de’ Medici and Lucrezia Borgia, and at the most prestigious banquets all over Europe. The first treaty dedicated entirely to truffles, “Opusculus de tuberis”, was written in 1564 by the Umbrian doctor Alfonso Ciccarelli. In the same century, Andrea Cesalpino lists for the first time truffles among mushrooms. In the Europe of this period, truffle was also called “garlic of the riches”, for its smell, slightly similar to the plant. In Piedmont, in the 1600s, it was widely used to imitate consumption of France. Unlike the trans- Alpine state, where black truffles were found, Piedmont region had white ones. A century later, the white truffle of Piedmont was considered one of the most valuable by all the courts of Europe. In fact, truffle hunting was considered a Palace entertainment to which guests and foreign ambassadors were invited.