History of Truffles

Truffles have been held in high regard as a delicacy since ancient times and even today, are prized for their pungent aromas and ability to enhance the natural flavors of food. They can be added to almost any dish with the ability of creating a gastronomic treat. Edible truffles have found their place in French, Georgian, Greek, Italian, Middle Eastern and Spanish cuisines and are served at the highest quality restaurants around the world. Despite their demand, they remain elusive and cloaked in mystique.

But just what is a truffle? Truffles are edible fruiting bodies of fungi that live in the soil, attaching to roots to form a symbiotic relationship with certain host trees. Similar to mushrooms, they can vary in size from that of a marble to the size of a fist or bigger. (In case you are confused because you think “chocolate” when you hear “truffle” know the chocolate dessert got its name as a nod to its similar shape to an actual truffle.) There are over 400 known species of truffles in the world with many more being identified every year. Out of these 400 plus types only 5 or so have ever been cultivated successfully. One of the most highly prized varieties is the French winter black truffle Tuber melanosporum or Perigord, named after where it grows wildly in the forests of France. For centuries, truffles have been gathered with the help of pigs or truffle dogs, with locations of wild growing truffles a closely guarded family secret. It was long thought truffles could not be farmed and could only be found wild.

However, starting in the 1800’s, the trufficulture movement in France produced promising results with black Perigord truffles, as growers had the idea to transplant seedlings collected at the base of known truffle producing oak trees. Truffle production spread quickly through southern France during the next century but the world wars greatly impacted the countries workforce and truffle production stalled. In the past 30-40 years, new efforts at truffle cultivation have taken hold and spread, not only through France but also abroad into the United States, United Kingdom, Spain, New Zealand, Australia, Chile and South Africa.

Here at Alexander Valley Truffle Company we have also begun the journey to cultivate the winter black truffle. For now, we await our first harvest which could take anywhere from 5-10 years after trees are planted. We can’t wait to bring fresh winter black truffles to Sonoma County tables!