"The foods are a present divine and have something of miracle, from the the egg to the truffles."

Sybille Bedford

The truffle, that delicacy

Theophrastus called it "truffle" in the 3rd century BC. The Athenians professed veneration for truffles and they were always present at feasts in Rome. In the Ancient Age it was consumed more for its supposed aphrodisiac virtues than for its gastronomic qualities. Galen, a Greek physician, recommended the truffle to "produce a general excitement that predisposes to voluptuousness". Ibn Abdun (12th century), in his treatise, warned against it by saying "Do not sell truffles around the Great Mosque, because it is a fruit sought after by libertines".

Jean-François Foy (17th century) writes: "It is found in arid, clayey, reddish, ferruginous, light, etc. soils. Three varieties can be distinguished: the Perigord, the Burgundy and the one with purplish flesh. The first is the most appreciated of all, the most expensive and the most sought after; it is black on the inside. Its smell and its softness are remarkable; but it does not eat well until after the first frosts. The second is white on the inside, harder and less fragrant than the first. It does not ripen until September. As for the third, we have never seen it".

Brillat-Savarin, in his treatise "Physiology of Taste" (XVIII century): "Truffles are heavy and indigestible, as we have said, and hence they have their detractors; but in reality they are not bad except for those who DO NOT KNOW HOW TO EAT. But the true gastronome knows how to distinguish something far superior to all these principles, we are talking about the exquisite perfume, the delicious taste that the well-organized nervous papillae can never forget".

The black diamond of gastronomy has always been a delight for the privileged classes. The black truffle "Tuber melanosporum" is a product associated with luxury, the glamour of haute cuisine, and sky-high prices. Although very few people know it, Aragon is the largest producer of black truffle in the world: around 80% of the world's production is harvested.

Aragon and the truffle

The truffle is a subway fungus that lives in the roots of some trees such as kermes oak, walnut and oak. The holm oak forests are located on limestone, siliceous and chalky soils, which are perfectly adapted to the climatic conditions of the Iberian Peninsula.

The development of truffle growing is an alternative to traditional crops in areas with low yields. The development of this activity produces a food that is very scarce on the planet and highly valued. Sales are practically guaranteed, market prices are very high and continue to rise. Areas with truffle potential could obtain a demographic boost that would prevent their depopulation.

At present, the production of black truffles is mainly due to the harvesters who have preserved and improved the forests, and to the development of truffle farming, since scientific research has shown that it can be cultivated in areas where the appropriate geographical, climatic and agronomic conditions are met by planting mycorrhizal oaks.

Black truffle cultivation

Trufficulture is considered to be a transitional activity between forestry and agriculture. From a strictly agricultural point of view, we see that it fully coincides with the principles and objectives of organic agriculture and forestry.

The discovery of truffle cultivation occurred in France by chance, in 1815, although it was not until the 1960s that the first plants inoculated with truffle were obtained. Cultivation was developed in France and Italy during the 1970s, reaching Spain through the importation of French plants. In the 1980s, the first companies were created that cultivated and sold their own plants. Examples of this crop can be found in Castellón, Soria, Sarrión (Teruel) and Graus (Huesca).

Its appearance, size and aroma depend on the time of year, weather conditions and humidity. The truffle harvesting season is from November to March, although it is during the months of January and February when the truffle reaches its optimum ripening moment. It is advisable to consume it fresh, within 10 days after its collection, so that it maintains its incomparable aroma and flavor.

The Moncayo: truffle territory

The landscapes of the Iberian System and Moncayo speak of truffles. Wild truffles, white and black, grow in the Moncayo. They are located in very specific areas of the holm oak forests. The best kept secret that only a few know.

Eloy Martínez Villalba, from Vera de Moncayo, took the initiative to grow truffles in Moncayo. The following year, in Litago, always advised by two experts in Plant and Food Production, Ignacio Palazón and Juan José Barruiso, he planted one hundred mycorrhizal plants, half oak and half kermes oak. After five years he managed to produce two truffles. The oak truffle weighed 220 grams, while the kermes oak truffle weighed only 20 grams, but it didn't matter, the dream had come true.

After a feasibility study, several truffle farms were set up in Somontano del Moncayo. The study confirmed that there were several truffle-growing areas in the region: in El Buste, Vera de Moncayo, Trasmoz, Litago, Tarazona, Grisel and Añón del Moncayo. A good number of hectares of land have been repopulated with oak and kermes oak, which are very well adapted to the environment of the area. For the repopulation, a "very careful" plant has been used, protected by a plastic tube about 80 cm high to protect it from the weather and wild animals. The truffle is previously micronized at the root.

During these years, thousands of plants have been put into cultivation, which take between 7 to 10 years to bear their first fruits.

The researcher Juan José Barriuso (CITA), in a statement in Aragón Digital, has pointed out that "the region of Moncayo is one of the most likely to become a new production area of black winter truffle of the first order, since it is still possible to cultivate large areas in which there are optimal conditions for harvesting the fungus". The black truffle that can be obtained in this region would be one of the best in Spain, of excellent quality and with a great aroma, since the right conditions are present: humidity, temperature, summers with storms and very chalky soils.

Eloy Martínez has become one of the best truffle connoisseurs in the province of Zaragoza. At the moment, there are several truffle farms in the regions of Campo de Borja and Tarazona and Moncayo. A new agricultural production, economic, sustainable and environmentally friendly.

More than 65 people have grouped together under the name of Truffle Growers Associated with the Counties of Zaragoza. Truffles can be bought and consumed during the winter and summer seasons. In addition, little by little, its consumption is being incorporated into the local gastronomy through initiatives such as the "Truffled Tapa in Tarazona" days, or the gastronomic days "Tapas with the Bécquer family".

The Truzarfa association believes that truffle farming can be an alternative to agriculture in the region. A farmer can live with about 6 ha of about 2000 plants with total tranquility. So far all the production obtained is sold in Aragon and Bilbao.

The magic world of mushrooms

Bécquer told that in the forests of the Moncayo there lived some small and bulging characters that he called gnomes.

The truth is that in the Moncayo and its surroundings you can find different types of forests: holm oak, oak, pine, beech, birch and black pines that favor the birth of mushrooms and fungi. For years, groups of friends and families have been coming here to "look for mushrooms". The most well known of all are the "robellones" or Lactarius deliciosus, the delicious types of boletus, the juniper mushrooms, the trumpet of the dead. Or the most sought after and desired, the amanita caesarea, the mushroom of the Caesars. According to the regulations, mushroom picking has a limit of 3 kg per person per day, and commercial harvesting without authorization is prohibited. Respect for the forest and the environment must never be forgotten.

San Martín de Moncayo: the paradise of mushrooms

Although there are mycological activities in many villages of Somontano del Moncayo such as Litago, Añón or Vera de Moncayo, San Martín has become the capital of Moncayo mushrooms. And it is not by chance. You can visit the Interpretation Center where you can see the enormous variety of mushrooms that can be found in the area, their characteristics, and also their benefits and dangers. It is necessary to be advised by experts before eating any type of mushroom. There are also organized walks to get to know some of the more than 500 species catalogued by Javier Cortés and his team. Of course, the restaurants in San Martín specialize in mushroom cuisine.

The Mycological Association of San Martín de Moncayo, in collaboration with the City Council, is doing a commendable job, promoting and disseminating mycological tourism. This work would not have been possible without the dedication, perseverance and knowledge that Javier Cortés brings to this project.

Few natural spaces like the Moncayo and its surroundings can boast of treasuring so much wealth. A place to get lost.