The truffle has been known since the end of the ancient ages, but the first written references date back to the first century of the Christian era. In Historia Naturalis, the Latin scholar Pliny the Elder claimed that the truffle, at that time defined as a tuber, was a product of miraculous nature in that it is born and grows without roots.
In the same century, the Greek philosopher Plutarch of Cheronea brought back the idea that the precious fungus was born by the combined action of water, heat and lightning. This fantasy was inspired by the Roman poet Juvenal, who attributed the birth of the truffle to a thunderbolt thrown from Jupiter in the vicinity of an oak, the sacred tree of the lord of the gods.
The link with Jupiter, a character in the myths that is conspicuous by a prodigious sexual activity, spurred the physician Galen to affirm that the truffle possesses aphrodisiac qualities. In the imperial era it resurfaces as De re coquinaria of the chef Apicius which, between praise of the precious tuber and various recipes, reminded us that Nero defined the truffle as "food of the gods". The notation of the culinary use of the truffle becomes more consistent from the Renaissance onwards.
It is well known that in the Eighteenth Century the truffles from Piedmont were appreciated to the point that the House of Savoy used them as "diplomatic gifts", sending them to the European courts. During the Eighteenth Century the first scientific studies also arose. It was the doctor from Turin, Vittorio Pico who, in 1788, defined the prized white truffle Tuber Magnatum, i.e. "truffle of the powerful". Hence the botanical name Tuber Magnatum Pico.
The White Truffle of Alba has acquired international fame thanks to the Alban entrepreneur Giacomo Morra, founder of Tartufi Morra and inventor of the Truffle Fair of Alba. It was he that in 1933, the London newspaper The Times described as the "King of Truffles"; and it was he that had the idea to gift, each year, a large "trifola” (northern Italian dialect for truffle) to powerful men of the world or to famous artists. The genial promotional initiatives and the genuineness of the products marketed by Mr. Morra have made his company legendary and made valuable the white truffles that are collected in this territory.
(Texts and images kindly provided by the National Truffle Studies Center)