|No matter how skillful the chef, the ingredients are created by nature, and in creating the truffle nature has certainly outdone herself. Since the days of antiquity this humble mushroom has been highly prized and highly sought after for its aromatic qualities, its rich and delicate flavor – and for its supposed abilities as an aphrodisiac.
The history of the truffle dates all the way back to the fourth century B.C., and ever since those days this delicacy has been highly sought after. Since the truffle has always been such a rare treat, it was frequently available only to the ruling class, and even then it was often reserved for special occasions.
Ever since the earliest days of truffle cultivation, Italy has been a leader in the production of this delicacy. During the Roman days there were a number of mushrooms cultivated and used as truffles, including the mushroom that is today known as the “desert truffle.” These special truffles are designed to grow well in the hot and arid climate of the desert, and these special treats are still available today, often sold as Asian truffles.
The enjoyment of truffles declined a great deal during the Middle Ages, but their popularity quickly rebounded during the Renaissance period. During that time period, truffles were highly favored by royalty. In fact truffles were a particular favorite of King Francis the 1st of France, who used the delicate mushroom in his royal court. These magnificent culinary delights remained a personal favorite of many European kings, as well as members of their courts and members of their families.
One of the things that has made truffles so highly prized and so valuable throughout history is the fact that these unique and delicate mushrooms have typically eluded full scale cultivation. The original truffles were discovered growing wild, and those who picked them quickly discovered how wonderfully aromatic and fragrant they were. After those wild truffles were discovered to be such culinary delights, repeated attempts at agricultural cultivation were made, but for the most part those attempts were a failure. This has helped to create a certain mystique around the truffle, with visions of truffle hunters accompanied by boars out hunting truffles on a foggy morning.
Even though the history of truffles is one of wild growth and difficult cultivation, truffle lovers will be glad to know that in fact these highly prized mushrooms can be cultivated successfully by using the proper techniques. Some of the first successful attempts at cultivating truffles date back as early as the beginning of the 19th century. Truffle connoisseurs had long noticed that wild truffles seemed to grow in or near the roots of certain trees, and by using those trees cultivators were able to create their own truffle growing spots. To do so those truffle hunters gathered acorns from oak trees that were known to host large numbers of truffles. They then planted those acorns and allowed them to develop into oak trees. When those oak trees matured the trees also played host to truffles, and trufficulture was born.
During the rest of the 19th century additional truffle cultivation experiments were started, and many of these experiments resulted in the successful cultivation of these specialty mushrooms. In fact truffle cultivation was so successful that truffles were featured prominently at the World’s Fair in Paris. As truffles became more widely known and more available, they also became more popular with a growing segment of the culinary world. While truffles were still very much a specialty item – and an expensive one at that – they were no longer the exclusive province of truffle hunters. Finding wild truffles was always a challenge, and it remained so even when those wild mushrooms were tamed, but trufficulture took some of the hard work out of the process.
As the 19th century drew to a close and the 20th century dawned, the growing industrialization in Europe led many truffle fields to be abandoned, and many of those fields were simply allowed to return to their wild state. The coming of the First World War also dealt a serious blow to luxury items, including of course the truffle. During this period of strife, much of the art of growing and cultivating truffles was lost, and it would take many decades for truffle production to return to pre-war levels.
The increasing scarcity of truffles led of course to a spike in truffle prices, and even today these unique foodstuffs remain very much a luxury item. Even though the commercial cultivation of truffles has returned, these unique, delicate and highly flavorful mushrooms will always remain a very special treat.
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