History of Black Truffles
There is evidence evidence of black truffles being present in the diet of people in South West Europe up to 200 years ago. Since then they’ve inspired numerous poets and philosophers with their rich taste and earthy aroma. Reserved primarily for nobles, they have now be cultivated and deported all over the world, with approximately 45% coming from France.
The first mention of truffles appears in the writings of Theophrastus in the fourth century BC. In classical times their origins were a mystery which challenged many; Plutarch and others thought them the result of lightning, warmth and water in the soil, while Juvenal thought thunder and rain to be instrumental in their origin. Cicero deemed them children of the earth, while Dioscorides thought they were tuberous roots. Italy in the Classical Period produced two kinds of truffles: the Tuber melanosporum and the Tuber magnatum. The Romans, however, only used the terfez (Terfezia bouderi), a fungus of similar appearance which the Romans called truffles, and which is sometimes called “desert truffle”. Terfez used in Rome came from Lesbos, Carthage, and especially 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 flavour, because the terfez have the property to absorb surrounding flavours. Indeed, Roman cuisine many spices and flavours, and terfez were perfect in that context.
It is narrated in a hadith – Sahih Muslim – that Muhammad said Truffles are (a kind of) ‘Manna’ which Allah (God), the Exalted the Majestic, sent to the people of Israel through [Moses], and its juice is a medicine for the eyes. :Sahih Muslim, Book 23, Chapter 27, Hadiths5084-5089. Terfezia was the main truffle consumed in the Middle East historically, and Ludovico di Varthema, in his Travels (1503-08), wrote of great quantities of them being sold, having been harvested in the mountains of Armenia and Turkey.
Truffles were rarely used during the Middle Ages. The only trace of black truffles in Medieval cooking is at the court of the Popes in Avignon. Black and subterranean truffles were probably considered satanic and thus avoided, but the Popes discovered them when they relocated to Avignon, near the producing regions of Upper Provence, and they became very fond of them. Truffle hunting is mentioned by Bartolomeo Platina the papal historian in 1481, when he recorded that the sows of Notza were without equal in hunting truffles, however they should be muzzled to prevent them from eating the prize.
Renaissance and Modern Times
Black Truffles reappeared in Europe during the Renaissance, where they were honoured 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 flavour 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 (1825) 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.”
Black Truffles In New Zealand and Australia
The first black truffles (Tuber melanosporum) to be produced in the southern hemisphere were harvested in Gisborne, New Zealand in 1993. In 1999, the first Australian truffles were harvested in Tasmania, the result of eight years of work. Trees were inoculated with the truffle fungus in the hope of creating a local truffle industry. Their success and the value of the resulting truffles has encouraged a small industry to develop. A Western Australian venture had its 1st harvest in 2004, and in 2005 they unearthed a 1kg truffle that is potentially the largest ever harvested in the southern hemisphere. Production is expanding into the colder regions of Victoria and New South Wales.
Black Truffle Pricing
As truffles are considered a delicacy, they command high prices. The world’s most expensive truffle was a 1.51 kilogram rare White Alba truffle. It was sold for €125,000 Euros (Hong Kong Dollar $1,250,000; US $160,000) on 13 November 2006 to Hong Kong property tycoon Sir Gordon Wu. This price beat the 2005 world record of €95,000 Euros for a 1.21 kilogram White Alba truffle. The 2006 auction took place at the Castle of Grinzane Cavour in Italy, with three auction houses taking part (via satellite link): Castle of Grinzane, Hong Kong, and Paris.
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