Truffles are as sacred in Tuscany as red wine, pecorino cheese and olive oil.
Truffles are actually a fungi and found under ground usually around tree roots such as pines and oaks. The name “truffle” is derived from the rough, wrinkly outer crust of the truffle and I relish the fact that something with wrinkles, finally has value!
Just think in the forested area below truffles are growing beneath our feet…
There are six truffle regions in Tuscany and due to the varied terroir and growing seasons, truffle types, flavours and sizes vary. In general the sizes range from 30-60 grams.
The truffle flavour is something you either like or not.
There are black and white truffles. Black truffles (earthier, nutty, woodsy flavour) are known to be better cooked as the heating process brings out the full robust flavours while white truffles (garlicky, musky flavour) are more delicate and are best served raw, shaved or in lighter dishes.
Just look at the glorious picture of fresh out of the ground tartufo scorzone (black summer truffle) which are ‘legally’ available for sale in Tuscany from June 1st to November 30th .
I was sitting on an outdoor terrace in 32 degree heat, looking at that jar thinking, even truffles sweat under the Tuscan sun!
Due to their underground location, truffles need to be “rooted” out and until the 1970s female pigs (sows) were used to hunt for truffles in Tuscany. I love the thought of a rotund sow, snorting and sniffing out truffles as her master followed in hot pursuit. Apparently, the smell of truffles is similar to the smell of the male swine pheromone (sex attractant) therefore, the driving force behind the female sows frantic efforts to unearth her beloved! They can smell a mate three feet under ground.
The rooting action from the sows snout is key to spreading the fungi spores for future growth. Truffles cannot be “just” planted and therefore are fussy on where they grow. This is a primary reason for why truffles are so expensive.
So why are sows now unemployed? Not surprising, there was an issue with them eating more than they “offered up” so to speak. Sows would quickly gulp down a prized fungi (lovers weight), thus possibly swallowing thousands of euros in produce. I trust it was difficult for a truffle hunter to get between an amorous sow and her imaginary mate.
The “truffle dog” quickly replaced the sow as they were more obedient and not inclined to eat the truffles.
The basket below was on the table where we had our hot lunch (AnoniMax, Castelnuovo Berardenga).
Given the truffles were mixed in with freshly picked porcini, the house special of the day was a porcini salad (sliced mushrooms only), drizzled with Extra Virgin Olive Oil and freshly picked herbs. The chef picked the herbs from terrace pots as we sipped our white wine. The next course was home-made tagliatelle, brushed with butter and garnished with truffles. It was divine!
There are unsubstantiated rumours that truffles are an aphrodisiac. Apparently Napoleon went hog-wild (bad joke) and ate them frequently to increase his virility. If history is correct, they may have been the “special ingredient” based on his prolific love life.
As I savoured my pasta with truffles, sipped my white wine and gazed across the table at my husband, I could not help but think how attractive he looked today. Maybe there is something to that unsubstantiated rumour….