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Truffles throughout history

Since ancient times, there have been recorded mentions of truffles—to which magical and aphrodisiac powers have been attributed. There are references to them in the Bible, as is the case of “manna” and the so-called “love apples” (Jacob’s wife), although they were probably terfezias or desert truffles (genera Terfezia sp. and Tirmania sp.).


Furthermore, there is also mention of their consumption in Egypt (Cheops); the Egyptian emperors already enjoyed truffles, and the Greeks used truffles in popular cooking.

Pythagoras (6th century B.C.) and Theophrastus (3rd century B.C.) called them “products of thunder”. The importance of summer storms for their production was well known, which was probably why Pliny also called them “daughters of the gods and calluses of the earth” and Galen recommended them “to produce a general excitement that predisposes voluptuousness”. Mention of their aphrodisiac properties has always been made.


We can find few references to them during the Middle Ages, as the Catholic Church considered this fungus as somewhat dangerous—or even wicked—due to its seductive charm and aphrodisiac properties. They were only mentioned during the time of the Avignon papacy (Clement VI, Innocent VI, Urban V and Gregory XI). This is why truffles fell into oblivion. Proof of this is the lack of any mention of them in cookbooks at the time.

During the Renaissance, due to the cultural, scientific and culinary revival, there were many references to truffles. They were all the rage at the royal tables and their consumption spread across Europe. The great demand for this product at the time led to its consumption only by people who possessed a certain amount of wealth and high social status.


In the modern era, at the end of the 19th century, Brillat-Savarin, in his book The Physiology of Taste, described them as “the black diamond of the kitchen”. This expression is still used today to refer to this famed fungus, and in his reflection no. 44 on the erotic virtue of truffles, he said that “they make women more tender and men more lovable”.


There are more than 40 truffle species worldwide, but the most sought-after ones are the white truffle (Tuber magnatum), black winter truffle (Tuber melanosporum) and summer truffle (Tuber aestivum). Other species such as Tuber brumale and the terfezias are not as well known in the culinary world, but if used well, they also make delicious dishes.


In Roman Spain, there is an anecdote where Lartius Licinius, an official of praetorian rank, bit into a truffle and broke his teeth on a denarius (a Roman silver coin) contained within it.

Dr. Laguna, the physician of a pope during the Middle Ages, attributed aphrodisiac properties to them—to which the pope succumbed. He also claimed that they caused apoplexy and kidney stones, so he advised against them altogether.

We find the earliest references to the truffle trade in Vic (Barcelona) in a document dating back to the end of the 18th century. At the same time, the first areas in Spain where there is evidence of people foraging for wild truffles are in Centelles (Barcelona) and Graus (Huesca), where truffles have been collected in the early twentieth century.

“A personal anecdote. I remember my grandmother telling me how her mother would ask her to go and look for truffles for the pigs to eat. She was born in 1909” (comment by J. M. Estrada)

In the post-war period, foragers from the area of Vic and Graus discovered the existence of this beloved fungus in other areas of Spain such as Teruel, the north of Castellón or Soria. But it was not until the 1950s–1960s that the locals there also began to forage for truffles in their woods. Despite the fact that, at the beginning, there was no regulation whatsoever, in a few years, the town councils had to establish limits and only the people who had paid a fee to collect them were allowed to do so.

This is how they ended up exploring new areas, such as the mountains in Cuenca or inland Valencia. By auctioning off public forests, they were able to harvest wild truffles.

Although two truffle plantations such as that of El Toro (Castellón) and the Arotz estate in Navaleno (Soria) were successfully established in Spain in the 1970s, it was not until the end of the 1980s when the need to create truffle plantations (trufficulture) arose.

This need was due to the loss of production of wild truffles, due to the changes that were taking place in terms of both the climate and the countryside.

Animals no longer grazed in public forests and rural exodus was a reality, which meant that there was no more need for firewood and the forests were left uncleared. As a result, wooded areas were closed off. All this led to a decrease in the production of truffles until that moment.

Since then, an economic driver has emerged around the truffle industry. Today, there is a network of companies including farmers, traders, canneries or nurseries, which are bringing different areas in the provinces of Teruel, Soria, Castellón, Valencia and Cuenca back to life after nearly falling into oblivion.

This sector has led to stability and even population growth in the countryside, encouraging the young and the not so young who left in their day to return.

It is breathing new life into the agricultural sector, adding new value to estates that in many places had not been tilled in more than 30 years.


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