What is a truffle

The truffle is the fruiting body of a particular category of mushrooms known as hypogeal mushrooms, belonging to the Tuber kind and the Tuberaceae family. As the name suggests, these mushrooms live underground, growing at a depth ranging from a few centimeters up to, in very rare cases, one meter. The peculiarity of these fungi is precisely that of generating fleshy bodies, the truffles, through which they spread their spores and reproduce. Once ripe, the truffles produce an intense and penetrating scent that goes beyond the barrier of the ground and attracts wild animals that feed on them, spreading their brown, ellipsoidal, thorny or cross-linked spores and facilitating their reproduction.

The science that studies the truffle is called idnologia.

The truffle: mushroom or tuber?

Until this day there’s a widespread doubt about the correct classification of the truffle: is it a mushroom or a tuber? The scientific name Tuber is often misleading and therefor some people confuse the truffle with a tuber. The truffle is a real mushroom that shares many characteristics with other mushrooms, as we will see in the next paragraphs. The name Tuber is only meant to highlight the fact that the fruiting body of these mushrooms resembles the shape of a tuber.

Il tartufo e il rapporto di simbiosi con la sua pianta

Like all mushrooms, the truffle is heterotrophic: which means, it is not able to obtain the substances necessary for its survival through chlorophyll synthesis, a process of which it is lacking due to the fact that they grow underground and do not have an access to sunlight. To compensate, the truffle creates a symbiotic relationship with a plant, growing in close contact with its roots and absorbing from it all the nutrients it needs. This relationship, known as mycorrhiza, benefits both the fungus and the plant.

The mycorrhizae are structured differently for each species of truffle, and each type is associated with specific plants with which it creates its symbiotic relationship. The plants most common known to engage a symbiotic relationship are oaks, holm-oaks, hornbeams, linden and poplars, these are the most common; but the plants which are involved in symbioses are much more numerous and include both broad-leaved trees and conifers.

The truffle: characteristics and nomenclature

The truffle consists of two parts: an external peel known as the peridio, which can assume different characteristics from species to species and depending on the type of soil in which it grows; and the internal fleshy part, known as the gleba, composed of 80% water, fats between 1-6% and the remaining part are fibres and mineral salts, such as potassium, calcium, sodium, magnesium, iron, zinc and copper, organic substances that are all drawn from its symbiotic tree. The color of the gleba varies from brown to pink, white to grey and vein-like structures are also very usual.

The shape of the carpophore, known as the fruiting body, can vary according to the type of soil that hosts the truffle: if the soil is soft, the truffle will have a spherical globular carpophore, if the soil is stony and with many roots, the carpophore will be irregular and lumpy. Another curious characteristic of the truffle is its high sensitivity: the precious mushroom does not tolerate environmental pollution and therefore it is impossible for it to grow in contaminated areas. A true sentinel of untouched nature.

The main types of truffle

Nature provides a variety of truffle species, however not all of them are edible and thus very valuable. There are only nine edible species, of which only six are currently available on the market:

  • The prized white Alba truffle or Tuber Magnatum Pico
  • The Bianchetto or Marzuolo or Tuber Borchii Vittadini truffle
  • The fine black truffle or Tuber Melanosporum Vittadini
  • The black summer truffle or Scorzone or Tuber Aestivum Vittadini
  • The black winter truffle or Tuber Brumale Vittadini
  • The smooth black truffle or Tuber Macrosporum Vittadini

Each of these types has its own organoleptic properties, its own symbiotic plants, its own harvesting sites and reference prices. To deepen all these aspects, we invite you to visit the section dedicated to the different truffle types.

The Desert Truffles: Terfezie

The terfezie are one kind of the different types of truffle, mushrooms belonging to the Terfeziaceae family, better known as desert truffles because as their name indicates they grow in the desert and semi-desert areas of those countries overlooking the Mediterranean. Desert truffles are as appreciated as classic truffles and are the protagonists of many recipes, especially in the Mediterranean area, even though their value on the market is generally lower than other truffles.

Truffle: the origin of the term

The origin of the name "tartufo" has long been shrouded in mystery: linguists have debated for centuries about the probable derivation of this word, originally coming to the conclusion that the term derives from the Latin terrae tufer, later vulgarized in territùfru, which literally means "excrescence of the earth". Recently a second hypothesis has been proposed: the term would derive from terra tufule tubera, an expression that highlights the similarity of the truffle with tuff, a type of porous rock widespread in volcanic soils. Through time and evolutions, the term ‘tartufo’ was mostly used in Italy, while in the rest of Europe the variants specific to each language spread.