The tree and the truffle
Truffles are hypogean (underground) fungi which grow in the presence of particular trees such as oaks, holm oaks and willows, with which they establish a symbiotic relation known as mycorrhiza. Truffles are not able to carry out chlorophyll photosynthesis, therefore they receive the required nutritive substances for their growth from the tree. In exchange, through the mycelium, truffles give the tree a greater amount of water and mineral salts, helping the tree to grow strong and healthy. Truffles are a fungus that consists of two principal parts: the fruiting body, known as carpophore, which is also the part that is so greatly appreciated by our palates, and the mycelium, which are the roots of the fungus. The mycelium produces the carpophore, which can vary in size, and can be found at depths from 10 to 40 cm in the ground. Under the external part, the peridium, is the pulp, known as gleba, with the spores. When the spores ripen, the truffle emits that characteristic and intense smell that makes it irresistible not only to us humans, but also to wild animals. The penetrating and persistent smell, in fact, has the purpose to attract wild animals (wild boar, pigs, badgers, dormice and foxes) that dig the ground to feed on the delicious fungus. In this manner the truffle can spread its spores and continue the species. Mycorrhiza lasts for the entire life of the tree and therefore every year, truffles can be found in the same place under the same tree.
The characteristic aroma of truffles has been well known since ancient times, in 1700 it was considered one of the most delicious and valued foods in all the European royal courts. Among the great fans of this fungus was the musician Gioacchino Rossini, who defined it the “the Mozart of mushrooms”. In the King of France’s cuisines, white truffles from Alba were used in the place of garlic whose effects were not well tolerated: truffles leave you a good breath unlike garlic!
Traditionally, pigs were used to search for truffles, but the pigs find the truffles very appetizing, and so had to be kept from eating the ones they found. Today only trained dogs are used, which, unlike the pigs, do not harm the environment when searching for truffles.