Truffles are a type of fungus maintaining a symbiotic relationship with the host plant. The word truffle refers to a group of subterranean fungi that is used as spice and has the characteristics of gastronomical specialty. There are many archaic names used widely, such as triffle, trufola, pig fungus, dust fungus and soil bread, among many others.
The truffles are mycorrhizal fungi (fungus root) types of fungi. Therefore this fungus is a subterranean, hypogeic (sprouts and grows under the soil) type of fungus, that lives in a close symbiotic relation with the roots of trees, developing a mycorrhizal, root network with them. The ectomycorrhizal roots network assures the optimum access to the nutrients by the host plant through the colonization of the roots. The truffle does not enter into the cell wall of the plant, but instead it surrounds the root with a cape of fungus hypha and it creates a Hartig-network among the ducts of the surface cells where the nutrients exchange takes place.
They have a non uniform lumpy organ called ascus that is developed at 8-10 centimeters below the surface, and that is the most valued crop in the world. The truffle’s reproductive organ, the ascocarp that is made up of the outer bark -either covered with scales either has a smooth surface- and the inner stock called the gleda. Nowadays there is a big tendency of biotechnology that artificially creates the symbiotic relationship of the root-fungus in the sylviculture. Truffles are mystical, legendary beings, many people associate it with aphrodisiacs although the truffle’s desire enhancing properties aren’t proven yet. Its scent and taste are spicy, reminds of garlic, but apart from that it also has a special savor that is so hard to define.
“Those who want an ethical and virtuous life should not taste truffles.”
The legend says that deers get a new rush of strength after eating truffles, right before the mating season in September-October. Deers dig up the soil of the forest and once they find this precious delicacy they go crazy after the cows. Due to its strong enhancing powers it has been legendary and a very valued type of fungus ever since the ancient times. Contrary to its fame, truffles are actually a spice and its value is determined by its scent rather than its quantity. The truffle’s inner flesh is the gleba that creates the spores, very veiny, with patterns of marble, when mature it is fleshy, waxy, hard to the touch, its consistence reminds of greasy cheese, very scented. From a gastronomic point of view the Tuber genus (the word tuber means tumor or lump and comes from the latin expression tumores terrae, tubera terrae) is the most valuable. The most famous and most sought-after truffle has the Latin name Tuber melanosporum, that has many names in France: truffe noire or truffe du périgord and in Hungarian it is called French truffles. In Province people believe that all the other French “triffles” (truffe brumale, truffe de Bourgogne, truffe mésentérique, truffe blanche) came about by accident. It grows only in South-Europe, where there are usually truffle auctions held, in 2010 at an Italian auction a 936 gramm white truffle was sold for its new owner for 105 thousand Euros.
The truffles are truffe in French, that stems from the Middle-French trufle form and ultimately originates from the Latin tuber (lump) word. Spice, gastronomical speciality, with a taste that resembles nothing else. Giacomo Casanova used to eat truffle ragu before his love conquests, and the famous Casanova-sauce contains 30 gramm truffles. According to the senior Alexandre Dumas “the truffles make the ladies more tender and makes the men easier to love”. The 18th century French chef Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin calls it “the diamond of the kitchen”, while Gioachino Rossini the Italian composer calls the truffles “the Mozart of fungus”. It is as if “ we would eat a smell, but the smell that we sense with our tongues is not the same that we previously felt on the truffle.”
The summers used it for their dishes in Mesopotamia. The ancient savans and philosophers had many debates about the nature, shape and essence of the truffles. Theophrastos, the Greek philosopher , who was called the “father of botanics” believed that truffles came about from the collision of autumn rains and thunders. They had to transport the sweet Terfezia genus desert truffle from Phoenicia to the ancient Roman Empire where the white, sweet, phoenician truffle was regarded as a special delicacy and aphrodisiac at the Lucullan feasts. The desert truffle was also transported from North-Africa to the Roman kitchens. The North-African desert truffles are in mycorrhiza relation with mostly herbaceous plants.
The first Hungarian mentions remained from 1395 in the so called Beszterce Glossary, erroneously called as “Thuber taplow”. In 1547 in France, at the wedding of Henrik the II. and Catherine of Medici, there were many Italian cooks who arrived to the French court and they made the truffles famous. From this period there are written Hungarian mentions from 1588, in the Trencsen judge decree, when he ordered the guarding of the truffle fieldlands. In the 1760’s Mátyus István, the head physician of Küküllő and Marosszék presented in-detail the right way of harvesting and consuming of the truffles in his book Diaetetica, or the fundamental method of keeping good health; and he also presented the other effects of truffles as “the wakening of the spirits and the saying of the Venus”. He wrote about the summer truffles that in the Csik and Gyergyo mountains the shepherds and axman are looking for truffles in the places where deers and pigs have dug up the soil. They walk barefoot, with a stick in their hands, so the soles of their feet sensen the truffles in the mossy soil and they dig them up with their sticks.
The tuber aestivum’s more or less round body is covered in pyramid shaped black warts, it is generally the size of a walnut but can sometimes be the size of fist-sized hazelnut or bigger. The inside of the truffle is the hard grey-brown flesh with white veins. Its specific smell reminds of boiled corn and tastes like walnut.