Truffle hunting in Tuscany
Grown mainly in France and Italy near the roots of trees, truffles can also be hunted down in parts of Spain, Croatia, Slovenia and even China.
Known as ‘diamonds of the kitchen’ – and hailed by the Romans for their aphrodisiac qualities – these pricey treats are about the size of a walnut and cost around £600-£1300 per pound.
Discover the best places for truffle hunting, where to taste the best truffles and a recipe to make at home.
While France’s black truffles are generally renowned for being the most flavoursome, many believe the Italian white truffle, or Tuber Magnatum, is the cream of the crop. So powerful is its flavour, a single white truffle is capable of filling a whole room with its scent. Just few shavings will add a touch of class to even the simplest of dishes. It’s the reason why, each year, thousands of cooks and foodies from all over the world flock to Italy to experience these earthy gems and to take home. Although different types of truffles can be harvested throughout the year, the white truffle season roughly lasts from September to December, reaching its height in November.
The Alba truffle from Italy’s Piedmont region is regarded as the most prized white truffle of all, and each October-November the famous Alba International Truffle Fair is held in its honour. Perhaps it’s this event and clever marketing that has elevated the white Alba truffle to its lofty status, because there are others who believe the lesser-known Crete Senesi white truffle, originating from Tuscany, is just as tasty. It, too, is celebrated in a number of festivals, such as the event in the small town of San Giovanni d’Asso during the second and third weekends of November. This is a much more personal affair than the International Fair and a great opportunity to try and buy truffles from food stalls, sample other local delicacies, or feast on truffle-themed menus in the restaurants. It’s also a great time and place to go truffle hunting.
Truffles are hunted by a ‘trifolau’ and his specially-trained sniffer dog. This usually happens very early in the morning when the truffle’s scent is at its strongest. Although truffle hunters are usually very secretive to each other about their hunting locations, they are quite happy for tourists to accompany them on a hunt. It’s a unique experience and enjoyed by many visitors to the rich region of Tuscany.
Some tips to help you on your way to a tasty trip to Tuscany…
- If you’re just after a hunt, try calling The Association of the Truffle Hunters of Siena who are happy to arrange hunts free of charge. As they are often out hunting for truffles, you might have to try a few times before you get through: +39 (0) 577803213.
- Alternatively, you can pay for an organised hunt with a tasting session. Asso Tartufi organise hunts near San Giovanni d’Asso including a small truffle snack for around 50 euros per person. Optional extras include an English speaking guide and truffle meal. These hunts usually take place from 9am to midday. For more information, go to www.assotartufi.it, request to translate the page, and click on Escursioni. It’s worth noting their truffle hunting skills far outweigh their web-design skills!
- The many food stalls at the truffle festival in San Giovanni d’Asso are a great place to grab a quick bite to eat, but for a more lengthy experience try a truffle-themed menu in one of the restaurants. You can expect to try dishes such as truffle terrine, truffle risotto, truffle pasta and even truffle cream. Booking is advisable during the white truffle season.
- Alternatively, Chianti Kitchen organises cooking classes in their countryside villa in Chianti, Florence or even in the comfort of your own self-catering accommodation. After a day’s cooking you are invited to sit down and enjoy your efforts in a six course dinner. A specialised course paired with a truffle hunting excursion is also available upon request. Visit Chianti Kitchen for more information.
Where to stay
To Tuscany has 300 self-catering villas in Tuscany, some of which are ideally located to go truffle hunting; visit during the festival and explore more of the region’s countryside and towns. The company offers excellent local knowledge and can help you organise your stay. For example, villa Fattoria Armena, in the province of Siena, is just 8.5 km from San Giovanni d’Asso; it’s divided into three apartments – each sleeping between 4-6 people.
Do try this at home
- If you’ve bought your own truffles and want to prepare and eat them yourself, the main thing is to keep it simple. White truffles are not usually cooked as they lose their flavour. They are best enjoyed shaved raw over simple dishes that won’t distract from their flavour. A popular dish is to simply shave some white truffles over fried eggs.
Alternatively, try this recipe for green beans with truffles
- 1lb fresh green beans
- Tuscan Extra Virgin olive oil
- Truffle oil
- Sea salt
- White pepper, freshly ground in possible
- White truffle shavings
- After blanching the green beans in boiling water for a few minutes, drain them and place in a sauté pan with the olive oil, just a tablespoon or so.
- Add the beans and sauté over low heat. As the beans warm (you are not cooking them, but rather coating them in olive oil and imparting the flavours of the other ingredients) drizzle with some truffle oil. Add the salt to taste with a pinch of white pepper.
- When the beans are flavoured and warmed through, shave the white truffle over the dish and serve immediately.