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From Terra to Table how Italian Truffles are grown.
All truffles begin their lives as spores seeded to the roots of certain trees or bushes under the earth. The Italians call them "Truffle Plants". These in fact are small Oak trees (Quechua), or Hazelnut Bushes kept pruned in such a way that they do not grow too large.
Truffles were not always cultivated as it was thought impossible, but nowadays this is mostly the case. Considered the easiest to cultivate is the Black Summer Truffle which can be harvested between June and September.
Bianchetto(White Truffles) are the easiest to grow because the tolerate a range of different soils ranging from sandy to clay. Ideally the soil should have a p.h. of 6.5-8.0 (not acidic).
Truffles require three main conditions to grow well,1. Uncompacted soil. 2.As mentioned above a more alkaline environment. 3.Well-drained ground, which is why many truffle groves are planted on hillsides, some very steep. This makes for a great deal of manual labour for the producers, and is often a family affair. Looking after the plants under which these wonderful and highly prized culinary delicacies grow takes, time and devotion and a great deal of care and patience. Truffle growing is not an exact science! So much is also dependant on the weather.
Truffle dogs and hard work.
The first and most important element with training a truffle dog is that dog and truffler must become inseparable.The attitude and behaviour of truffle hunting-dogs also has has to be unique form other dogs.They are chosen from no particular breed but must have a sharp sense of smell, be calm, obedient, sociable and have very good endurance...some hunting sessions can last up to7hrs and go through very difficult terrain. Once the dog has located a truffle then it must never be allowed to dig right down, never have its nails touch a truffle.These can be found anywhere from 5cm to 25cm below the surface.
Training starts at 8-9 months old. First the puppy must learn to come to call and sit at the feet. Then small pieces o cheese (usually gorgonzola)are hidden under obstacles or in the ground and the dog is sent to find them using the command "TROVALO" This is repeated frequently each day until the puppy grows accustomed to the scent. Then a small piece of highly scented truffle is added and the whole process repeated until finally the puppy is sent to find just pieces of truffle. Each time the morsel is successfully located and dug up it is shown to the puppy and them the puppy is well rewarded generally with a tit bit.
It takes around a month to train, sometimes a little quicker depending on how talented the dog is.
Priceless Delicacies or poor mans food.
In the world of gourmet foods Truffles are considered worth their weight in gold literally, particularly Italian Truffles, and of these the most highly-prized of all White Truffles.
Tartufi(truffles)are a key ingredient in many local Italian dishes and therefore have somewhat of a double life; outrageously expensive when used in the highest of high cuisine, and yet they are harvested in a time traditional manner which is a far cry from the expensive and often sophisticated surroundings that they are consumed in.
Black Truffles are more affordable than white ones simply because the former is slightly less aromatic and flavourful. There are many products that use the wonderful flavour of truffles: Infused oils, Bottled slices, or Salsa(minced or creamed truffle), Truffle salt and pepper, Cheeses with truffle, Truffle Honey, the list is endless and mouthwatering.
But, one must always remember to bring these unique delicacies from terra to table, or shop, takes a dedicated team of men, woman and their highly trained dogs, and yes, even pigs in some countries. And they should be venerated as heroes by all who enjoy the Truffle!!