A national and international exhibition of handicrafts and regional specialities such as foods is held in Firenze at the Fortezza da Basso during the last week of April every year. I visited the exhibition in 1999 and was very interested to see the large numbers of fungi and fungal products on display, particularly the different kinds of truffle.
Apparently seven species of truffle are collected by the professional truffle hunters in Italy and four of these species were on display at the exhibition. There were fresh specimens of Tuber borchii (known as tartufo bianchetto) which had been collected the previous week from Umbria. The other three species which are not collected at this time of the year were available in the preserved form and as components of various sauces, creams, butters, flavoured oils and cheeses.
I had first tasted the famous white truffle, Tuber magnatum (tartufo bianco or tartufo d'Alba), a few days before at Procacci, a bar in Firenze which sells sandwiches made with a puree of white truffles (panini tartufati). It has a strong yet delicate flavour and I was pleased to be able to purchase a paste of tartufi bianchi at the exhibition to take back to England. There were also products containing the valued black truffle, Tuber melanosporum (tartufo nero or the Périgord truffle), found in the regions around Spoleto in Umbria and Norcia in Marche, and the more common black summer truffle Tuber aestivum. Sadly, only the latter species can be found growing in England.
Truffles grow underground in association with certain trees. They produce their characteristic aroma to attract animals such as pigs and squirrels which dig up and eat the fruit bodies dispersing the spores via their faeces. Unlike some wild fungi truffles can be eaten raw.
|In addition to truffles there were also large quantities of dried porcini (Boletus
edulis) for sale. Porcini (called ceps in France) have an intense aroma that improves
with drying. Dried porcini is readily available from supermarkets in England and can be
used to flavour sauces, soups and stews. Although the cost of the dried product may appear
to be considerably higher than that of fresh mushrooms it is not so bad when you consider
that the latter contain around 90% water. Also, only small quantities of the dried fruit
bodies are required in cooking.
I thank representatives from Poddi Tartufi and Giuliano Martinelli for allowing me to take pictures of their produce. Further information about the products described in this article can be obtained from Poddi Tartufi.
Copyright © 1999: Paul F Hamlyn
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