Known in English as “truffle”, tartufo is one of the most expensive Italian delicacies and it’s somehow the star of Italian cookery every autumn, especially in the north of the country as the climate of this area of Italy is ideal for its spontaneous growth and makes it taste at its best.

Tartufo is an underground mushroom, a sort of “black and white gold” known since the ancient times.

Truffle, the black and white gold of the gods
Just picked truffle

Romans and ancient Greeks used truffles in their cookery, and they both believed it was a gift from the gods: according to the poet Juvenal, in fact, the origin of the truffle is due to a lightning thrown by Jupiter near an oak. Another legend says that tartufo, because of its alleged aphrodisiac power was dedicated by the pagans to the goddess Venus.
Because of its controversial origin and nature, Tartufo over the centuries has been studied by many scientists, however it wasn’t a scientist but an Italian restaurant owner to make it famous around the world. Giacomo Morra owned an hotel & restaurant in the town of Alba, 60 km south of Torino, and in 1929 organized “La fiera del tartufo bianco di Alba” (the White Truffle Fair of Alba). The event was a huge success and over the years it has grown enormously: this year, the 89th edition of the fair is attracting, as every year, thousands of tourists from all around the world.

Truffle fair of Alba
The magic atmosphere of Alba

Giacomo Morra contributed a great deal to the internationalization of the truffle: every year he sent a precious mushroom to a famous person like the president of the United States Harry Truman in 1951, the English prime minister Winston Churchill in 1953 the sportsman Jo di Maggio and Marylin Monroe in 1954. Nowadays Tartufo is a worldwide known delicacy that can be sold for up to 5000 euros per kilo. In Alba you can buy it at auctions!!!

Truffle auction
Alba white truffle auction

Why it’s so expensive?

Tartufo is really expensive mainly for 2 reasons: it’s hard to find and not enough to satisfy the high demand. It’s that marvelous odor that makes it so desirable. Truffles are mushrooms that have evolved to grow underground.  When the spores of the truffle mature, the fungus produces aromatic compounds that attract animals. The animals dig up the truffle, and the truffle spores become dispersed. In the old times truffle pickers used pigs, nowadays everybody uses dogs that need to be trained.
Unfortunately, consumers may find their expensive purchases a big letdown. That’s usually because the truffle is past its prime and no longer producing the aroma from which its flavor is derived; you normally need to eat your truffle after 5 days from picking.

A successful truffle dog
A well trained truffle dog

How to enjoy Tartufo

The first dilemma you have to sort is: cooked or raw? The white variety, the tastiest and the most expensive, has to be eaten raw; the black variety can be cooked but not for long. Most Italians prefer it row anyway and they slice or grate their tartufo over pasta, risotto, meat or even eggs.

Here some pictures:

Looks delicious, isn’t it? Italian Tutor organizes autumn stays in Emilia-Romagna! You could be over there learning Italian in Italy and eating truffle!!! You will not be let down: it’s really a unique flavor!

“Tartufo”: the white gold of the gods: history, traditions and uses