Before getting to the real description of the truffle and its legends, I would like to debunk some myths, which continue to be diffused despite the popularity of this exceptional delicacy.
Truffle is NOT a tuber, NOR a relative of the potato, NOR a disease of the soil. It is NOT EVEN a parasite fungus, but IT IS a symbiont fungus (definition below).
It is WRONG to store it in rice as it absorbs the moisture and dries it out. It is best to keep it in a cloth or paper towel allowing it to breathe. NEVER freeze it, as it will lose all of its properties. DO NOT remove the skin. Instead it must be cleaned well to remove the remaining soil. It is recommended to thinly slice, not cut into pieces. And, most importantly, NEVER COOK it.
And now fora little history…
The history of the truffle takes root in distant eras, even if we cannot be sure that historians of ancient times were really speaking about it or about other hypogeal fungi. Therefore, it is only a theory that the truffle was part of the Sumerian diet.
The first confirmed report appears in the Naturalis Historia by Pliny the Elder (79 AD). Recorded anecdotes show that truffle was quite enjoyed on Roman tables, something which was most likely picked up from the Etruscan’s gastronomic use of this fungus. In the first century AD in Ancient Greece, the legend was passed that the precious fungus came from the combined action of water, heat and lightning thanks to Greek philosopher Plutarch. Poets of all eras could not avoid being inspired by it; one of whom being Juvenal, Roman poet and orator, who explained that the origin of the precious fungus as fruit of a lightning bolt cast by Jupiter near an oak tree, a sacred tree for the gods. Since Jupiter was also famous for his phenomenal sexual activity, aphrodisiac qualities have always been attributed to the truffle.
Apart from urban legends, the truffle has always been a highly regarded food, especially on noble and high prelate tables. And, in addition to attributing aphrodisiac qualities to it, some Renaissance scientists attributed to truffles the ability of reaching ecstasy.
Morphological Characteristics and Classification
Truffles are the fruiting body of the fungus that originates and grows underground; for this reason they are hypogeal fungi, belonging to the Tuberaceae family of the Ascomycete division. Like all fungus, they are without chlorophyll, and, as such, cannot absorb substances (sugars and starches) that are necessary for survival, producing a so-called “mycorrhiza” mutualistic symbiosis from which both parties benefit.
Truffles have an external wall that may be smooth or rough, according to the type and the soil in which it grows, in addition to a meaty internal mass whose colour varies from pink to grey, white to brown and may be veiny. The truffle is an extremely prestigious, highly prized and very expensive delicacy. Its characteristic aroma is pungent and persistent, composed of aromas that recall garlic, hay, wet soil, honey, mushrooms and spices. It develops only after maturation and its natural purpose is to attract wild animals to spread its spores and perpetuate the species.
Its taste is very pleasant and is at its maximum expression if eaten raw and thinly sliced (little leaves) at the last moment on hot simple dishes with little dressing, releasing its flavours.
There are many species of truffle, but the most precious from a culinary and economic point of view is the Tuber magnatum (Pico, 1788), commonly known as the White Truffle. It is white, slightly marbled with a smooth surface. With its irregular bulb shape, it is a symbiont fungus of trees such as poplar, linden and oak. It has a preference for clayey soil and is harvested in autumn and winter. Surely the most prized and expensive, just as its name implies, is magnatum from the Latin word magnatus, which means magnate, a wealthy person.
Certainly, this hidden “treasure” can only be found by one who knows how to look for it and has the patience to wait for it. Let us now turn to the famous “Tartufai”, the true truffle hunters, almost “mythological” shy creatures who have their own routines and hidden places where they search for truffles with their loyal dogs, which are very loved and respected, and preserve nature and its prosperity as they hunt.
The ideal habitat where these precious fungi originate is rigorously protected and the extraction is strictly regulated so as not to damage the host plant and to avoid harvesting truffles that have not yet reached maturation consequently risking to damage the truffleground. There are actually precise methodologies and calendar dates for the harvest. For example, the Tuber magnatum (Pico, 1788) is picked between October 1 and December 31. Once the truffle has been extracted from the ground, the unearthed hole in the ground must be covered up.
Italy is the biggest White Truffle and Black Norcia Truffle producer and exporter in the world.
A fragrant wine with great structure, intensity and long finish pairs well with truffles: Brunello Beatesca so it will be perfect and a great and elegant combination.
And, as every year for the last 28 years, in November, there will be the Mostra Mercato del Tartufo Bianco delle Crete Senesi, the White Truffle Fair and Market. San Giovanni d’Asso gets ready to celebrate the “white diamond” by offering two weekends of tastings, markets and seminars for the most prized hypogeal fungus. In addition to the food and wine experience, there will also be demos, shows and seminars.
Schedule and Tickets
Summer Hours (April — September)
Wednesday to Friday 10.30-13.30 | 15.00 – 19.00
Winter Hours (October — March)
Saturday and Sunday 10.30 — 16.30
When museum is closed, group tours for at least 15 people can be arranged
Concession (students, teachers, seniors, ICOM members, EDUmusei cardholders, special needs assistants): €3.00
Children (7-13): €2.00
Piazza Gramsci 1 (Castello Comunale)
San Giovanni d’Asso (Siena)
tel: 0577 803268 email: firstname.lastname@example.org