I’ve been coming and going to and from Tuscany for a few years now, since we found our cute little bolt hole in a 16th century village on top of a hill. We’ve tested a few ‘experiences’, from cooking pasta and pizza classes to wine tasting and today we experienced something a bit different. Truffle hunting. Tartufo, a beautiful Italian delicacy which is rather like marmite, you either love it or you hate it. You get 3 types through the year in Tuscany, Bianco, the most valuable, and found during November/December, the Marzuolo (Spring) truffles, January to April, and finally the more recognised one, the black truffle, July to October. So the experience can be had any time of year in Tuscany. I love it, my other half hates it and his 10 year old who joined us today thought it was just OK. To learn more about the difference, the costs, the way to cook etc, you must do the tour, I’m not going to spoil it here.
For the tour we teamed up with a local tartufaio and his trained dog to see what we could find in the woods. Now we thought they used pigs, and apparently they still do in France, but here, they think the pigs are too lazy and more likely to eat them rather than find and retrieve. On our way into the woods, we spotted another truffle hunter and his dog coming out. You have to have a license to hunt here and its frowned upon if you don’t and you can be arrested.
The relationship between the tartufaio and his dog is wonderful to watch, Sky, our finder of the day, was a boisterous, bouncy dog, he couldn’t wait to get started and the tartufaio had to be strong in order to control him before the start, then all of a sudden he bent down, let the dog loose, looked him in the eye and instead of running wild as we expected, the dog looked back, listened to the instruction, stood still for at least 10 seconds, and once given the command………off he went. Sky does this for love. He has been very well trained, has a value of around £18,000 (is not for sale) and does this for the appreciation only, not for treats or rewards, only for love. The tartufaio has 8-10 dogs at a time, so he must have a lot of love to go round when trained this way.
As we moved along our wet and slippy trail, Sky came across a few areas where he sniffed, dug, moved the leaves and branches out the way and then left the area for his trainer to find the truffle. For the first few times, the hole had already been dug, not re-covered (a very important and respectful part of truffle hunting) and there was no truffle buried there. It soon transpired that the previous man and his dog hadn’t been one of the licensed hunters and had in fact come to ‘steal’ the truffles. This was a matter of great excitement and despair for the landowner and his truffle hunter, and a seek and find mission was ordered, to track him down and retrieve the truffles. Between licensed tartufaio here the rule is he/she who finds owns.
In the meantime, Sky kept digging, we all kept peering over them both, the anticipation tangible. Then eventually, the hunter started giving Sky hugs and kisses and lots of attention, and bingo! We had our very own white truffle! Phew! We could now have our lunch with truffle as part of each course. Hurrying back to the Agriturismo (basically an Italian ‘farm stay’, but they are so much more than that nowadays) and the kitchen, and it was handed over to Nonna (Grandma) and she started cooking for us.
Our first course, was a cheese fondue with truffle shavings on crostini, cheese and salami with truffle honey, steak tartare with grated truffle on top and finally a warm fried quails egg on crostini with grated truffle. This was my favourite, the contrast of the warm egg, the crusty crostini and the truffle shavings was delicious! To keep the rich flavour of the white truffle, it’s recommended not to cook it, simply to grate it into sauces, onto foods etc.
For the main course, it was spaghetti with truffle and for dessert, warm custard with chocolate sauce and……….you guessed it, truffle shavings. Absolutely delicious. Some beautiful vino rosso from the vineyard on the land and aptly named after the owner’s son.
That’s it in a nutshell but I’d highly recommend you experience this for yourself if you find the time whilst in Tuscany. We get all our tours organised by the lovely Arianna who owns the tour agency Arianna & Friends. She’s based in La Rosa, very near Pisa and has a multitude of tours on offer, including the most popular one, tickets and travel to Andrea Bocelli’s annual Summer concert in his home town of Lajatico, just up the road from us! If you go there tell her I sent you and she’ll look after you. And when you next order truffles from an Italian restaurant, you won’t now wonder why they are so expensive after seeing how hard the dog and his trainer work to find them.