In my quest to learn more about food I’ve gone to some amazing places and tried some fabulous dishes. My latest adventure, though, is in a class of its own…truffle hunting in the heart of Tuscany. It’s one of the fantastic experiences offered at the stylish Borgo Santo Pietro hotel. After decking ourselves up with hiking shoes and sticks supplied by the hotel, we headed off to meet our intrepid truffle hunters somewhere in the countryside.
There are a range of different truffles (both black and white). October marks the start of white truffle season – the white ones are rarer as they are only available for a couple of months each year. You’ll find them in the Piedmont area of Northern Italy, especially around the towns of Alba and Asti as well in the hills of Tuscany…which is where we were, with Mauro, our tartufaio and Stella and Alba (simply the best name ever, obviously), our truffle dogs.
Truffles are a kind of fungus that grow underground, developing a symbiotic relationship with certain types of tree. Their appearance (or not) seems to be random and you will need the help of a truffle pig or dog to sniff them out. All truffle hunters (tartufaio) must register and only hunt on their patch of land.
Truffles have long eluded successful domestication (though people haven’t given up trying), which adds to the magic of these mysterious bulbs of deliciousness…and also to their price. The day we were hunting, the price for white truffles was around €1,200 a kilo. The record price ever paid for a single truffle is thought to be in 2007 when Macau casino owner Stanley Ho paid £165,000 at an auction for a specimen weighing 3.3lb. For something you’re going to eat?? Wow!
Truffle hunting is hard work. The vegetation is very thick and wild and there’s a lot of ups and downs. And the dogs run off in all directions, so you have to be pretty nimble to keep up. When they smell something they like, the go mad…you’ve never seen a tail wagging so furiously. Here’s a little film taken on the day to give you an idea
Alba the Truffle Puppy (I had to give her the full title) was only three months old and being trained. They learn from the older dogs. I love dogs…and these ones are particularly cute and clever and so full of energy.
And here’s Stella, waiting patiently beside her latest truffle discovery.
Loved the fact that our hunters came kitted out in full camouflage…like they had to sneak up on the truffles. Well, that was fun…and pretty successful too, as we had a selection of fresh truffles to show for it. All we had to do now was eat them! And the perfect place for that was a little trattoria in the small village of Lucardo, called Cera Una Volta (which means once upon a time, aah).
We turned up with our truffles, gasped at the views and settled down to see what delights the chef would offer up. Seriously, the Tuscan countryside is as beautiful as you’d imagine it to be…if not more.
Before it was time for the truffle-fest we were served a selection of deep fried delicacies, including courgettes (zucchini), aubergine and herby polenta. The Italians are a dab hand with deep frying and these tasty morsels were bursting with flavour and dissolved in your mouth.
And then – truffle time. Because the truffle flavour is so strong and unique, you really don’t need to add much to get the most of it. Truffle butter on toast elicited sighs of delight all round.
A classic way to serve truffles, with plain, fresh pasta. You can’t believe how good it tastes.
Generous gratings over a fresh fried egg.
Truly a day to remember. Oh and here’s that amazing view I was telling you about. Ever feel like life can’t get any better?
To find out how you can go on your own truffle hunt visit www.borgosantopietro.com/en/