“Black gold”: why are black truffles from Spain so appreciated?

With its famous black truffle, Spain is today one of the main players in the European market.

Spain is not only a country rich in aromatic treasures, but also the world’s leading producer of Tuber melanosporum (black truffles), better known in France as the “Périgord truffle”. Spain also produces the summer truffle (Tuber aestivum).

Nicknamed black gold due to its exceptional quality, rarity and price, the black truffle is also found in France and Italy, but Spain is the market leader. Most of its production comes from Girona and Teruel.

While traditionally harvested from the wild, truffles can also be farmed, but it’s not a simple process.

How to explain that the Spanish lands are so suitable for growing these mushrooms of
luxury?

What is black truffle?

Truffles are underground mushrooms that grow near the roots of some types of trees, such as oak, holm oak and hazelnut. If the truffles themselves are not in direct contact with the roots of the trees, they are connected to them by an immense network of mycelium (the vegetative part of the mushrooms, formed by branched underground filaments) which extends for kilometers underground.

Trees and truffles therefore maintain a symbiotic relationship, sharing nutrients and water.

Truffles are therefore the fruit of this mycelium network and are found about 20 centimeters deep underground. This is why often dogs with a good sense of smell are used to identifying them and extracting them from the ground.

White and black truffles have been appreciated for their gastronomic qualities for thousands of years. Although there are many species of truffle, not all of them are edible and some are more valuable than others.

What makes the black truffle so special?

“Truffles are incomparable flavor enhancers. They have brought countless new flavors to the world of cooking that otherwise would never have existed.” says Sofia Agustin who works for Manjares de la Tierra, a company that sells truffles in Sarrion.

“Truffles have such a distinctive flavor that it can’t be compared to anything else. They can have over 48 distinct shades, such as butter, caramel, wood, damp earth, hay, and ground coffee.”, adds.

The black winter truffle season in Sarrión runs from November to April. Chefs particularly appreciate the unique aroma and earthy taste of the black truffle, which is more subtle than that of the white truffle. Black truffles can be cooked in a sauce or eaten raw.

As for the black summer truffles, as the name suggests, they are harvested from May to September. With a milder aroma than its winter sibling, it is less rare, making it an ideal truffle for beginners. We find it in the wild in the Spanish regions of Catalonia and Guadalajara.

Where does the black truffle grow in Spain?

The northeastern region of Aragon is the heart of the Spanish winter black truffle market. About 60% of the country’s black truffles are grown here. Production is split between the provinces of Teruel, Huesca and Zaragoza, with most of the truffles grown in the rugged, high-altitude province of Teruel.

However, cultivating black truffles is not as simple as cultivating other mushrooms.

“From the first trees planted to the first truffles grown, producers have to wait up to 10 years before having the first harvests”, explains Sofia Agustin.

This long wait is only half the battle, because there are strict conditions that must be met in order to undertake the maintenance of the truffle grounds.

While the fields “simulate the natural conditions of the forest”, the environment can be controlled, says Sofia Agustin. “For example, by using micro-sprinkler irrigation systems, we achieve an even distribution of water that simulates fine rain when needed”adds.

Temperature and climate are also very important for the cultivation of truffles, which is why Teruel is an ideal place for them.

“Here, between 900 and 1,200 meters above sea level, we enjoy an ideal climate and are protected from strong winds thanks to our location between two mountains. Our calcareous soils are therefore perfect for growing truffles in safety .“, explains Sofia Agustin.

In the wild, we can find black truffles in the Catalan forest of Girona, where they are harvested by local cavers and truffle sellers between November and March. Although specialized truffle-hunting dogs are bought at high prices, Sofia Agustin explains that it’s not just about the breed of dog.

“It’s not as important as some people think. What is decisive is that the dog has a good sense of smell and an aptitude for learning. For example, a bulldog would not be a good candidate for this job, because its olfactory abilities have diminished. But a simple dog with a good sense of smell and a willingness to learn could be your companion for the rest of his life.” explains Sofia Agustin.

Abejar Black Truffle Festival

Almost 40% of Spanish truffles come from other regions such as Catalonia and Castile and León. The province of Soria in north-central Spain is a great place to sample some of the truffles the region has to offer.

The annual black truffle festival, which takes place every February in the city of Abejar, is a real truffle festival.

Expect to see local markets, workshops and restaurants offering special truffle menus.

“The truffle is a factory of aromas when it is alive or breathing, and the molecules it releases can be used to ‘truffle’ other foods”, says Pedro Marco Montori, senior researcher at the Center for Agri-Food Research and Technology of Aragon (CITA).

«Great chefs know this secret and offer guests complete truffle-based menus with a few grams of truffle», explains the researcher.

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