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10th Jun

2013

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Truffles throughout the Ages

References to truffles date back thousands of years. Ancient peoples were unsure what truffles were, thinking that they grew when lightning struck the ground, or were calluses that grew from the earth. Babylonian royals and Eygptian pharaohs enjoyed them, thinking of them as aphrodisiacs. Legend has it that a man saw his female pig eat one. Thinking that it was poisonous, the man waited for his pig to die. Instead, she attracted so many boars that she soon produced many piglets. He decided to eat a truffle himself, and, so the story goes, his previously childless marriage soon produced 13 children. When legend of this aphrodisiac reached Rome, they were eaten with great gusto and dubbed the “love root“.

During the Middle Ages, priests were fearful of the dark, knobby tubers (which could bear resemblance to men’s genitalia) and called truffles the creation of the devil. They were associated with witches, and monks were forbidden from eating them, for fear that the exotic aroma would incite them to lust. This was perhaps one of the only times in history when truffles were eaten primarily by peasants.

During the Renaissance, Louis XIV became very interested in the root and tried to discover how to cultivate it. Although his attempts were unsuccessful, the truffle became a prominent feature of French haute cuisine and was once again associated with wealth.

Truffle production peaked during the mid-1800s and then fell in the early 1900s, due to, for example, deforestation during World War I, the industrialization of Europe, and acid rain. Despite this decline, demand for truffles has not dampened over the years; in fact, as more people are exposed to them, demand may even be increasing. Fortunately, non-European countries are accepting the challenge to attempt truffle cultivation and are meeting with success.

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