The ancient Egyptians were among the first truffle obsessives, and often ate the morsels coated in goose fat. The Greeks and Romans were also keen on the fabled fungi, believing it had therapeutic and aphrodisiac powers. According to truffle mythology, a farmer witnessed his pig eating mushrooms unearthed from the roots of a tree and decided to try them himself: he later had 13 children with his wife, sparking the idea that truffles lead to virility.
The Dark Arts
During the Middle Ages, truffles fell out of favor since the church believed that their exotic aroma was the creation of the devil. Known as the “witch’s fare,” few people ate or sold them
During the Renaissance, truffles made a comeback thanks to the Italian noblewoman and would-be Queen Regent of France, Catherine de' Medici, who reportedly brought them to Paris when she married Henry II in 1533; a century later, Louis XIV made them the mainstay of his royal court—and a permanent fixture on the the French culinary scene.
Whether for its aphrodisiac qualities or exquisite aroma and taste, Napoleon Bonaparte was besotted with truffles, as was the Marquis de Sade, who fed them to his paramours to entice them into the throes of passion. It’s also rumored that truffles were part of the prescription the controversial Russian mystic Rasputin gave Tsar Nicholas II and the Tsarina Alexandra to help improve their notoriously hemophiliac-prone Imperial bloodline.
By the 19th century, truffles had transcended their status as royal rarities and began influencing popular culture: rumor has it the British poet, Lord Byron, kept a truffle on his desk in the hopes the scent would stimulate his creativity; the Italian composer Gioachino Rossini referred to the luxe treat as “the Mozart of fungi;” and even esteemed American author Mark Twain nodded to these exquisite tubers: in his 1894 novel Pudd’nhead Wilson Twain wrote, “We don’t care to eat toadstools that think they are truffles.”
(Extra) Fine Dining
Truffles’ significance —and value—have only increased since. In 2007, Macau casino owner Stephen Ho got into a bidding war at a charity auction with British artist Damien Hirst over a 3.3 pound truffle, which he won for $330,000; Three years later he paid the same price for two more truffles, totaling 2.8 pounds. A more affordable luxury by comparison might be the Fleur Burger 5000 at The Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas, which features a Wagyu beef, foie gras, and black truffle patty that comes nestled in a truffle-infused brioche bun that is served with a bottle of 1995 Chateau Petrus for a cool $5,000. Bon appétit.