I must confess before I came to Italy I had never tasted a fresh truffle. One November evening, years ago, our foody friend, Giampaolo, suggested a trip to the mountains for dinner. It was truffle season, and he had a friend who had a restaurant who had a cousin who had a friend who had just been truffle hunting the day before. Ever eager for a new experience we jumped at the chance and into the car. When I enquired about the drive time, Giampaolo had shrugged, smiled and estimated about twenty minutes. An hour and a half later we pulled up outside what I thought was someone’s house. It was really, but they had opened their hearts and dining room to lovers of homegrown, home cooked food. A family affair, the norm in these parts, Nonna busy cooking in the kitchen, daughter waiting tables and her husband looking serious about wine.
The delicate scent of truffles enveloped the room. The candles flickered and the fire roared, the atmosphere was warm and cosy. I could feel my cheeks glowing and my eyelids drooping……and the rich Amarone wine was going down a treat.
It was a truffle lovers paradise. Course after course arrived, each one subtly flavoured with fine shavings of fresh truffle. I think there were six courses, but I confess to being in a dream-like state and can’t quite remember. The soup and pasta dishes were wonderful but my favourite…. poached egg with truffle slices scattered on top, so simple, so delicious.
Truffles are weight for weight, one of the most expensive foods on the planet. Luckily, however, a little goes a long way and in Le Marche you can indulge in them without pawning the family silver.
The white truffle is the finest – and the most expensive, tartufi bianchi, and can cost well over €3000 a kilo depending on quality and seasonal abundance. The black truffle comes at a more modest price. If you want to buy them fresh you have to be here between October and the end of December for the bianchi and between December and March for the neri pregiati.
A Few Facts
November is prime truffle time and truffles represent the greatest culinary treasure of the gastronomic area here in Le Marche. For those who like a little adventure, it is possible to take part in a special truffle hunt with a professional truffle hunter, who finds these underground fungi with the help of his trained dogs.
You will get your shoes dirty following the dog and his master through the woods early in the morning and, if you are lucky enough, you will see the dog furiously digging and the truffle hunter extract the truffle carefully with a special tool. He then covers over the hole in order not to damage the natural spores, and scrapes off the earth from the truffle.
After that you are invited into the kitchen and with the help of a trained chef you can cook or simply taste the traditional truffle dishes of Le Marche.
Ten Truffle Facts
1) Most truffles rarely grow in the same spot twice and are embedded under the soil, close to roots of holm oaks, chestnut trees, poplars, pines and hazelnut trees.
2) Truffles can be stored for several days in a paper bag in the refrigerator, but the strength of their flavour decreases rapidly with time.
3) Since Roman times truffles have been used in Europe as delicacies, medicines, and even aphrodisiacs.
4) Traditionally, pigs were used to hunt truffles but in Italy their use has been prohibited because of damage caused to the soil. Dogs have now replaced them as they are easier to train. The lagotto romagnolo is the official dog breed for truffle hunting in Italy.
5) Most of truffle hunters are serious about keeping their truffle finds and locations secret.
6) Truffles must be collected at the proper time otherwise they will have little taste. You can buy fresh white truffles in Le Marche between October and the end of December.
7) Truffle hunting can be arranged seasonally for white truffles from September to December.
8) During the last weekends of October Sant’Angelo in Vado in Le Marche hosts the Mostra Nazionale del Tartufo Bianco Pregiato, an excellent chance to taste white truffles and see the town at its best.
9) From the end of October to the first two weekends in November Acqualagna in Le Marche is transformed into Italy’s “truffle capital” as it hosts the annual Truffle Fair.
10) White truffles are perfect to enrich main courses and can be inserted into meats, under the skins of roasted fowl, or stuffings. They are generally served raw, shaved into flakes, adding flavour and fragrance to omelettes rice and fresh homemade pasta.
If you enjoy new experiences and a wanderlust lifestyle come and visit us here in Le Marche……