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Truffles have been known and cited in various historical documents since ancient times. They aroused people’s interest for the singularities surrounding them, often being conceived as mysterious elements, wrapped in a halo of secrecy. For this reason, they aroused the interest of the most curious, who attributed to truffles surprising, fascinating, obscure and even macabre properties and origins. It all depended on the time and who was talking about them.

 

The first to enjoy truffles?

If we want to go back to the first use of the truffle, we cannot know with certainty when it was. However, thanks to the work of historians, we know which are the oldest actual documentations that have been found about the use of truffles.

The first documented use of truffles, according to James Martin Trappe, dates back to approximately 1750 BC and is from the Amorite civilization. If you want to know what writing was found on a clay tablet with cuneiform writing taken from the great library of the king of the Amorites, we leave you a little more information in our Blog.

So, although the Amorites are the oldest civilization of which we have evidence of their taste for this delicacy, later civilizations such as the Egyptians (1000 BC) also used it battered in fat or cooked en papillote.

The Druids of the Celtic lands of Wales, Ireland and Scotland used truffles in the preparation of their potions and in their rituals (4th century BC). These Druids, fascinated by the fact that truffles came from inside a magic circle of burnt earth between the roots of their sacred trees, made this fungus their essential ingredient. They attributed to the truffle everything from healing virtues to magical powers.

The Greeks (4th century BC) ate truffles found near the Aegean Sea. It is thought that they were terfezias and summer truffles. A curious fact is that the Greeks called truffles ‘daughters of lightning’ being the philosopher Plutarch their main speaker. Thousands of years later, we are still crossing our fingers that summers will bring some storms. To this day, storms are considered synonymous with the next season being a good one. The Greeks even organized cooking contests with them, and even Theophrastus, Aristotle’s favorite disciple, wrote about the origin that Greek philosophers attributed to them. We leave you here more information about it.
Origin according to the Greeks

Finally, in classical antiquity, the Roman Empire also appreciated its flavor and its alleged aphrodisiac potential. The Roman writer Ovid even spoke of a myth present in his time that suggested that mankind arose from fungi such as truffles.

With the fall of the Roman Empire, the truffle went into decline. The Church prohibited its use, considering it part of an ancient pagan cult. This dogma was based on the fact that truffles were harvested on the ground of the oaks and, according to ancient beliefs, that is where the Druids gathered.

Likewise, in the Middle Ages, truffles were considered a representation of the devil, because of their strange shape and black color. Here too, stories and ancient beliefs abounded that linked the forests and truffle gathering areas with being the haunts of witches and sorcerers. It was even said that their origin came from Satan’s drool and that their jet color reflected that of the souls of those condemned to hell. Its decadence and scarce popularity continued until the Modern Age. In spite of this, there are writings and documentations that speak of kings and princes enjoying its aroma and flavor, shielded by their high social position.

During the Renaissance and the Modern Age, truffles once again gained prominence. This was largely due to their use in the kitchens of the great royal houses. Thus, their consumption became popular throughout Europe. And so it continued until well into the eighteenth century, its use being found mainly in the houses with greater wealth and power. A clear representative of this case is between the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 14th century, and is the example of Napoleon Bonaparte. Well known among truffle lovers is the story of the truffle-stuffed turkey, which we also told you about in the Blog.

 

Thus we entered the Contemporary Age, the 19th century, when, thanks to its greater presence in the French market, the use of truffles began to establish itself among the majority of the population. Ironically, this was due to a catastrophe that devastated many French farming families. They suffered the destruction of their vineyards due to the proliferation of pests. In order to regenerate the land and prepare it for planting more vineyards, the winegrowers planted oak trees. Over the years, these in turn produced truffles. And this increased supply, which popularized their use among the French population, resulted in an even greater demand. Although it is true that its presence on the markets faded during the world wars, in the 1960s, with the first plant inoculation studies, real plantations of this precious fungus began to be established. First in France and then in other parts of Europe, such as Italy and Spain.

The black truffle today

To give a recent date, in 2018 France already had 20,000 hectares planted, growing at a rate of 2,000 hectares per year and a production ranging from 15 to 80 tons. It is worth noting the fact that at the beginning of the 20th century, production in France reached over 1,000 tons. Spain on its side, in 2018 had 15,000 hectares planted, growing at a rate between 500 and 1,000 hectares per year. Although Spanish production is said to be between 40 and 120 tons per season, it is normal for Spanish production to represent between 30 and 50% of world production. Italy in 2018 had 6,000 hectares dedicated to Tuber melanosporum and is growing at a rate of 350 hectares per year. In terms of production, within Spain, the province of Teruel stands out. In the 2019/2020 campaign it had a production of more than 100 tons increasing by 25% the production of the previous year.

It is worth highlighting the fact that areas in the southern hemisphere have recently begun to produce black truffle Tuber melanosporum. This makes it possible to consume it fresh for longer throughout the year. And in this section, Argentina stands out with 85 hectares planted in 2018, Chile with 400 hectares and Australia with 600 hectares.

This concludes our brief summary of the history of truffles. We have seen how they went from being venerated to being persecuted throughout history, especially by the church, although today Catholicism and the black truffle seem to have made peace. The devotion of some areas for this product is total within the church. This can be seen on the third Sunday of January every year in Richerenches. Here, the “Messe des Truffes” or Truffle Mass is held to pay homage to Saint-Antoine, the patron saint of truffle producers, and to venerate the black diamond that is so highly prized throughout the world and especially in this French town.

In this mass, when passing the brush for donations, in addition to coins, it is allowed, and in fact it is gladly accepted, to give a truffle. After the religious songs comes the turn of the members of the Brotherhood of the black diamond and gastronomy. Dressed in traditional costumes for the occasion, they accompany the parish priest out of the church to the “Place de l’H√ītel de Ville”. It is on this square that the truffle auction takes place. Afterwards, an aperitif is offered to all attendees followed by an ostentatious meal at the expense of the Brotherhood.

 

The following sources have been consulted for this summary: book (Curiosidades y recetas, La trufa. Obra colectiva), book (Tesoros de nuestros montes. Truffles of Andalusia. B.Moreno, J. Gómez and E. Pulido), web page (ledauphine), web page (provenceguide), web page (micofora), web page (heraldo).

 

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