History and myth
The ancient world
The truffle has certainly been known from a very remote age, but one cannot be sure that the historians of antiquity really talked about this, or about other underground mushrooms. Therefore, the presence of truffles in the diet of Sumerians and Jews, around 1700-1600 BC, is only a hypothesis. The first certain information appears in the Naturalis Historia, by the Latin scholar Pliny the Elder (79 AD). The reported anecdotes show that the truffle, simply called Tuber in Latin, was highly appreciated at the table of the Romans, who certainly collected the culinary use of this mushroom from the Etruscans. In the first century AD, thanks to the Greek philosopher Plutarch of Cheronea, the idea was handed down that the precious mushroom was born from the combined action of water, heat and lightning. From here various poets drew inspiration; one of these, Juvenal, explained the origin of the precious mushroom as the result of a thunderbolt thrown by Jupiter near an oak tree (a tree considered sacred to the father of the Gods). Since Jupiter was also famous for his prodigious sexual activity, aphrodisiac qualities have always been attributed to the truffle.
The Middle Ages and the Renaissance
For a long time naturalists have disagreed on the classification of the truffle. Someone called it a plant, others an outgrowth of the soil, or even an animal! Regardless of beliefs, however, the truffle always remained a highly appreciated food, especially in the tables of nobles and high prelates. But the truffle also suggested totally different concepts. For some “scientists” of the time, its aroma was a sort of “fifth essence” that caused an ecstatic effect on the human being. The truffle therefore as a sublime synthesis of the satisfaction of the senses to represent the essence of a superior pleasure.