Truffles are one of the most revered and mysterious of all cuisines. To look at one freshly rooted from the earth is not the most appetizing sight, but this little fungi from the mushroom family is actually one of the most delicious and internationally esteemed delicacies ever known. The finest truffles are grown in European countryside near the Mediterranean, particularly in Italy and southern France. Finding truffles buried deep within the earth is not an easy task, so farmers have long resorted to training dogs and pigs to seek out the prized fungus due to these animals’ superior sense of smell.
Although the first recorded cooking of truffles dates back as far as 20 BC, these delicacies did not become a sought after culinary commodity until during the 15th century French renaissance when they gained in popularity, helped by their being a favourite dish of King Francis 1st of France. Over the preceding years, truffles became an increasingly popular part of French cooking, as chefs began relying less on spices, and more on natural tasting ingredients for their recipes. The French Gastronome, Brillat-Savarin, declared the truffle to be the ‘diamond of the kitchen’, a nod to both its rarity and its appeal to the higher classes of French society. Before long, truffles were the number one food of the European elite.
Throughout the years, many efforts have been made to cultivate truffle production to increase their availability to the general public. Such expansion of truffle growth began as a success that allowed people of all classes and backgrounds to begin enjoy them. However, a number of setbacks began effecting truffle manufacture in the late 19th century. Severe infestations of Phylloxera occurred throughout Europe, and the industrial revolution shortly afterwards wiped out a large amount of the truffle producing fields across the continent.
Furthermore, the First and Second world wars wholly devastated entire areas of countryside throughout Europe, making truffle production in nations like France, Italy, and Yugoslavia ever more scarce. Unsurprisingly this lead to truffle value going through the roof, as the esteemed fungi returned to the dinner plates of the wealthy, rather than the working man.
Since the 1970s, there have been many attempts to increase truffle availability, particularly through the use of planting truffle groves. This has led to minor triumphs, with decent growth in a diverse group of nations, including the UK, USA, Spain, Sweden, New Zealand, Australia and Chile. However, despite these efforts, truffle growth still pales in comparison to the success that the industry attained at the beginning of the 20th century.
Truffles are one of the most delicious foods you will ever taste in your life. They make for an unforgettable meal for guests at a dinner party, and can be served up in a number of exquisite recipes. Truffles might be rare but they are still accessible in today’s culinary market.