The first mentioning of truffles reaches back to 2000 BC. The origin of these black little lumps that grow underground was a mystery that challenged many. Some thought that they were caused by thunder and lightning, while the philosopher Cicero deemed them to be ’the children of the earth’.
Often truffles are associated with France and Italy. But since the late 1990’s truffles have been grown here in Australia, with the first successful harvest in 1999. Today there are established trufferies in Tasmania, Western Australia, South Australia, Victoria, the Australian Capital Territory, Queensland and New South Wales. This is due to the fact that in these last twenty years a concerted effort has been made to artificially grow truffles in a farming sense. Science is now assisting in providing improved methods of inoculating tree seedlings and improving agronomy and cultural advice.
Truffles are one of the most highly sought after and valued foods in the world and this strong demand and unfulfilled supply has caused a steepening of prices. A Grade truffles retail for more than $3,000 per kilogram, making them one of the world’s most expensive food crops.
So what is a Truffle?
Well technically a truffle is a fungus that grows underground. They can grow on a number of tree roots, but most commonly Hazelnut and Oak. The common denominator is that the trees must be able to grow in ‘mycorrhizal symbiosis’ with the truffle tuber. So basically the tree must be able to allow the fungi to absorb nutrients for its roots and in return provide the truffle with nutrients of its own.
Here in Australia the roots are inoculated with truffle spores before being planted. Part of the reason they are so sought after and exclusive, is due to the time and effort required to grow and collect them. Although truffle farming is a successful business it doesn’t make you rich overnight. In general it takes up to 5 years after planting before you might find a truffle and you’ll need to have a well trained dog or pig in order to sniff them out.
The truffle season is in the winter months, so for us here in Australia the peak is June to August while in Europe the black truffle is available between October and March.
The most expensive and exclusive type of truffles are white “Alba’ truffles that grow mainly in Northern Italy. Only available in October/November, the Alba truffle is also grown on Oak and Hazelnut trees, but also Birch. It has a very intense aroma and can grow up to 12 cm (5″).
The truffle is either loved or hated, but for many of us this ‘diamond of the kitchen’ has an aphrodisiac effect. It has had this reputation throughout history, according to the legend, Napoleon ate truffles to increase his masculinity.
As the great gastronome Jean-Anthleme Brilliant-Savarin said:
“Truffles, as soon as the word is spoken, it awakens lustful and erotic memories among the skirt-wearing sex and erotic and lustful memories among the beard-wearing sex. This honorable parallelism comes not only from the fact that this esteemed tuber is delicious, but also because it is still believed to bring about potency, the exercise of which brings sweet pleasure”
Truffles are also told to be high in protein which gives that extra bit of fuel one might need after a big bowl of truffle pasta.
So what isn’t there to love?
To find out more about Australian Truffles, Read our article from The Truffle Farm in Canberra