There’s still a certain mystique surrounding truffles, despite the fact that they can now be grown and produced commercially. They are the most expensive fungus, with the black truffle commanding higher prices that the white variety. In Italy they are sold in pieces as well as whole, so you don’t have to spend a fortune on them to impress guests. There are truffle oils which have the truffle flavour, but many do not contain anything of the truffle itself. For centuries they have been regarded as one of the finer things of life and have been used as an aphrodisiac, but they do not have any health benefits apart from the fact that they contain amino acids and minerals such as potassium, manganese and calcium, among others.
White truffles
  In the US where they are now produced, they have an affinity with pecan trees, and in Europe they are found under oaks, beech, birch and hazel trees, although they are also associated to a lesser extent with the willow, pine and poplar. They have always been expensive to buy, but the European peasantry had easy access to these delightful edible fungi.
  The truffle was banned by the church in the Middle Ages, presumably because it was regarded as an aphrodisiac which incited people to lewd behaviour. It was a favourite food of both Catherine de Medici and Lucrezia Borgia during the Renaissance, allegedly.

  The ancient Egyptians were eating truffles around 3000 BC and they were a favourite with the Pharaoh Cheops. By the first century AD the Romans were eating the Terfez or desert truffle and importing them from Libya (which was less arid in antiquity), Carthage and the Greek island of Lesbos (Mytilene). Famous Roman writers such as Dioscorides (writing in the first century AD) thought they were tuberous roots, while those of a less scientific frame of mind such as the satirist Juvenal thought that they grew because of thunder and rain. In the 4th century BC Theophrastus stated that their genesis was a mystery, while Plutarch though they came from lightning, the warmth of the earth and water in the soil.
  There are summer truffles, Tuber aestivum and winter ones such as Tuber uncinatum; the most sought after one is Tuber macrosporum the black truffle.
  According to the Hadith Sahih Mohammed believed that they were the manna of “the people of Moses” and the juice from them was good for the eyes. They were known in the Arab world, as they were harvested in the mountain regions of Armenia and Turkey.
  Truffles came into their own in Europe in the 17th century, when Europeans abandoned heavily spiced food and turned to herbs and other flavourings which did not have to be imported. However in the market places they were only affordable by the wealthy.
  In the past people relied on truffle-hunting pigs to find their truffles and these were muzzled in 15th century Italy to prevent the sow eating the prized fungus (after all they were greedy pigs), which is not visible as they live underground. Now dogs are used, as they get rewarded for their finds with things they prefer to eat. The female pig finds them because they smell like the pheromone contained in a boar’s saliva. They certainly do have a pungent aroma, but not having smelled a boar’s saliva, I couldn’t comment.
  Truffles are exported from China (Tuber sinensis or indica) but these are considered inferior to the French and Italian truffles; they are cheaper. In Italy there are truffle festivals in summer and late autumn and these are well worth a visit, as they serve wonderful truffle delights at these affairs.
  The recipe below, is simple but very tasty, and can be made with white wine instead of champagne and basmati rice instead of Arborio (risotto rice) if you can’t find the Arborio variety.
  Truffles may not have any health benefits, but their aroma and taste give you a psychological boost and a general feeling of well-being.

1 truffle, black or white, or small slivers
1 cup Arborio rice
½  bottle champagne
freshly ground black pepper
1 garlic clove, finely slivered
1 small onion, finely sliced
salt to taste
olive oil for frying
Parmesan cheese, freshly grated

Soak the rice for 10-20 mins then strain and discard the water.
Fry the onion and garlic for a few minutes, and then add the rice to the pan and stir well to coat in the oil.
Now pour in the champagne and a little water and add the slivers of truffle, salt and pepper.
Cook for 15 or 20 mins until most of the champagne has been soaked up by the rice.
Leave for 5 minutes before serving with the Parmesan cheese.
This is good as a starter or with roast chicken.
This has Taste and is a Treat.


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