Truffle hunting: Toscana Tartufi
Blog 23 October 2017
Having enjoyed visiting the annual White Truffle Festival at San Miniato in November last year, I was pleased to be offered the opportunity to go truffle hunting by Erica (Heather) Jarman. Erica owns and manages Sapori e Saperi (Flavours and Knowledge) in the Garfagnana that organise small group tours and courses dedicated to local authentic food and wine. Her informative website explains everything in detail (www.sapori-e-saperi.com).
Seven of us drove in two cars to Riccardo Nicosia’s home just outside San Miniato where he trains dogs for hunting truffles. Also in the group where a young couple touring Europe from Australia, a Dutchman, a Dane and a young butcher from America, all with a keen interest in good Italian food. Riccardo who began the Associazione Toscana Tartufi San Miniato, and is its president, explained the day (around six hours) and introduced us to one of his dogs, Turbo.
Riccardo took us to a secret location south of San Miniato near Montaione where the white truffle can be found amongst the roots of several species of trees including oak, hazel, poplar and beech with which they grow symbiotically. Turbo lived up to his name as he dashed around sniffing out likely places and digging frantically. Riccardo explained the most suitable places for white truffle were in slightly damp drainage ditches that make up part of the lower river valley systems.
After many attempts Turbo finally located a very small white truffle in the bank of a ditch that emphasised the difficult and specialised nature of truffle hunting and that this year for numerous reasons they were particularly scarce.
Not stopping for lunch, we drove to another area close by where we walked to higher ground in search of black truffles, the second most commercially valuable truffle. The black truffle is associated with the roots of oak and hazelnut trees and tends to prefer a drier soil. Again, Riccardo’s dog Turbo chased and hunted frantically until he caught the scent of a female dog nearby and his concentration and enthusiasm for the hunt diminished.
Unsuccessful in our hunt and with the light quickly fading we returned to Riccardo’s home where his wife had prepared a delicious meal consisting of seven courses containing eggs, meat, beans and pasta using both white and black truffles. As is traditional, the white truffles were used raw as shavings over buttered pasta and eggs, whereas the black truffle was used with oil on the meat courses. Riccardo explained that truffle oil rarely contains truffles but is mainly olive oil that contains a chemical ingredient to simulate the flavour but remains a convenient and much cheaper substitute in cooking.