Truffle is the fruiting body of a subterranean Ascomycete fungus, one of the many species of the genus Tuber.
The name truffle actually comes from the Latin tuber, meaning ‘swelling’ or ‘lump’, this word giving rise to the various European terms: the well-known Italian – tartufo, or French – truffe, for example.
The mycelia of truffles form symbiotic, mycorrhizal relationships with the roots of several tree species, including beech, poplar, oak, birch, hornbeam, pine and notably, hazel. They prefer argillaceous or calcareous soils that are well-drained and neutral or alkaline.
These conditions are at their prime during the autumn in the Langhe and Monferrato areas of Piedmont in north-western Italy and, most famously, in the countryside around the wine towns of Alba and Asti. Whilst found elsewhere in Italy (in Molise, Abruzzo and Tuscany), as well as in Croatia, Slovenia and France, these treasures of the kitchen are at their best (and most valuable) when sold at the truffle market in Alba during the months of October and November, when the ‘Fiera del Tartufo’ (truffle fair) takes place.
Truffles are typically hunted in secret by the trifolau (truffle hunter) and their dog, who sniffs them out between leaf litter and the soil; and under. The breed Lagotto Romagnolo is highly prized for sniffing out truffles, although for many years female pigs were often used, attracted by a compound within the truffle similar to andrestenol, the sex pheromone of boar saliva. The pigs’ frantic scratching of the earth on discovery damaged the truffles’ mycelia such that production dropped significantly, leading to them being prohibited as hunters in 1985!
Because of their high price and pungent aroma, truffles are used sparingly; generally served raw, or shaved over steaming buttered pasta or fried eggs. Haute cuisine calls for slices of truffle to be inserted under the skin of roast game, or used in tandem with foie gras, or as a base for rich sauces.
The flavour? Earthy, ethereal and unreal.
The best way to enjoy this year’s truffle harvest is to book a spot during Sosta Cucina’s annual ‘Festa del Tartufo’. This North Melbourne stand-out will have air-flown white truffles arriving around mid/late November. Better still, Maurice will be hosting his famous Barolo and Truffle Dinner on Wednesday December 9th, in conjunction with Italian wine importers, Trembath & Taylor, who, as they’ve done in the last couple of years, have raided the cellar for some truffle-worthy old gems!
All details and bookings, contact: firstname.lastname@example.org or Sosta on (03) 9329 2882.