Truffles - A Culinary Delight

Ancient civilizations ate and appreciated truffles, both for their taste and alleged magical properties. During the Egyptian and Roman dynasties desert truffles, which are much milder tasting than our current front-runners, were the truffle of choice. People even speculate that the manna of the Jewish migration from Egypt to the Holy land was the desert truffle. The oldest surviving recipes for cooking truffles come from a Roman cookbook, the Apicius de re coquinaria.

In the middle ages, the consumption of truffles fell into disrepute, except among the peasants, for whom they were a valuable food source. Truffle appreciation in France, appears to stem from the result of Italian influence, especially the move of the papacy from Rome to Avignon in 1309. In 1533 Catherine of Aragon arrived in France to marry the Duke of Orleans. She brought with her, a wealth of paintings, crockery and cooks. She is credited with introducing sophisticated cookery to France. When the first French cookbook, Le Cuisinier Francois was published in 1651, more than 60 recipes featured truffles.

The golden age of truffles was the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. They enjoyed a heightened appreciation and a greater supply than at any other time in history. Recipes of the time called for "a dozen fine black truffles".

Alas, truffle production fell from a high of 1800 tons in 1902 to a mere 200 tons in 2008. Along with scarcity comes high prices. White truffles now command, in 2009, between $2000 and $4400 per kilogram and Perigord black truffles sell for between $1000 and $2000. There is however hope on the horizon for the frugal gourmet. The scale of cultivation of truffles world wide will eventually cause the price of truffles to drop dramatically, at least down into the realm of caviar and crab.

Truffle recipes

An array of good, fresh truffle recipes may be found at Vervacious, Fresh truffles and Fancy Food. These recipes generally call for ½ to 1 ounce of truffles per person, translating to $30 to $60 per person for the truffle ingredients. A feast of truffles and vegetables may be found at the World Wide Gourmet.