Truffles have been around for what seems like forever. The first mentions of the tuber can be found in Plinio the Elder’s Naturalis Historia and Apicius’s De re coquinaria, both written in the 1st century A.D. Apicius’s work even contains recipes that call for truffles. The Romans believed that truffles were of divine origin and according to popular belief they were the fruit of the sacred thunderbolt of Jove. Truffles are also known to be aphrodisiacs offered by the King of the Gods.
After a period of decline during the Middle Ages, the truffle came back into fashion during the Renaissance and was served to the princes of the Italian Courts. In the 18th century, the truffle’s mysterious nature was finally studied and codified. Still today it truffles are considered a culinary delicacy, appreciated by sophisticated palates.
Tartufo Nero di Norcia
The “Tuber melanosporum vitt”, commonly called the Tartufo nero, or black truffle, of Norcia or of Spoleto, can be found primarily in the Apennine Mountains located between Umbria, the Marche and Abruzzo. The truffles grow at altitudes between 650 to 4,000 ft, in the high hills or mountains, and more specifically in areas exposed to the sun and nearby other plants – most often oak, but also hornbeam, hazelnut and holm oak.
The best soil for growing truffles should be calcareous, rich in stones and have a good amount of clay in it. Truffle season begins in November and lasts through the end of March. The best truffles are usually found between the end of December through February, just as long as they weren’t damaged by frost.
Black truffles vary in size. On average, they are 2 to 3.5 in wide and weigh between 1.3 to 1.5 lbs. They are typically round in shape with lumps ranging in number and in size. The irregularity of the shape and the growth of truffles in general are due to the soil that they grow in: smoother truffles are produced in soft soil and very lumpy truffles come from compact, rocky soil.
The outside layer, or skin, of the truffle varies in color based on the truffle’s maturity: it can be rosy when the truffle is still young, and dark brown or almost black when perfectly mature. The interior color of the truffle also varies according to age. It can be white or light brown, grayish-brown to dark grey with white veins.
The aroma of the black truffle is pleasingly intense and many people prefer it to that of a white truffle. Its flavor is hard to alter regardless of the cooking method or how it is conserved.