Thursday, February 13, 2014

The kind of hunting I dig!

Winter is passing by unnoticed in this part of the world. It's rained so much that the soil is saturated. Very mild temperatures - we're almost not bothering with winter jackets... So as soon as the sun gives a break from the rain, what better activity than go truffle hunting?!
We meet up with our truffle hunter and his very excited dog. It's rained for days and the dog is so excited to get out in the forest that he's literally jumping up and down like a kangaroo! While we walk around the wet forest floor searching for a hidden truffle, it's fascinating to hear the stories of the truffle hunter. Very knowledgeable and passionate.
Truffles grow spontaneously underground in specific areas around Tuscany, starting to the North in an area called San Miniato and then continuing all the way down South to the Crete Senesi to San Giovanni d'Asso. The area is famous because it's one of the few places in the World where the precious white truffle can be found in the fall.
Truffles grow under specific trees like for example oaks and soak up the flavor (and sometimes color!) of the surrounding habitat. The soil has fossil shells in it (dating back to the sea covering the area billions of years ago) and the microclimate is another determining factor. 
Then there are the different varieties of truffles, as the aforementioned white truffle which is sought after in the finest restaurants around the World (and reaches prices of around 3000 euros a kilo!), but it's only available in the fall. In the springtime we may find the Scorzone truffle (also called bianchetto), and then the least precious is the black summer truffle. I personally love all 3 - so easy to please :)
Truffles are best fresh and they don't stay fresh for long which is the trouble and also why most people who don't live in a truffle growing area may never get the chance to taste them in their best state. 
Furthermore, truffles are aromatic (garlicky earthy flavor), but quite delicate. Usually when truffle is transformed it's freezed first where it looses some of its aroma. People somehow expect them to be extremely fragrant. This has led the truffle transformers (so whoever makes truffles into jarred products) to add flavoring of truffle (either natural or synthetic). This is for example very true of most truffle oils you can buy out there - so, consumer be aware! Sadly even in restaurants in Tuscany itself - eager to say they serve truffles but not willing to pay the price - dishes that claim the fame of truffle are "sophisticated" with aromatized truffles.
After our truffle hunt we go to the home of our hunter and enjoy a tasting of the fresh spring truffle. Nothing beats the real deal! Fresh truffles are truly divine - so subtle and so delicious you just have to try it! 
So don't settle for the aromatized stuff. If any truffle product has added "aroma" you're being given a pumped product (the silicone lips of truffle!). Demand the real thing!
In fact, right after our heavenly morning with the truffle hunter, we decide to try a restaurant and are offered a menu where truffles are sprinkled on top of pretty much every dish - and quite cheaply. First we want to avoid because of our knowledge of truffles being pricey. But then tempted by the deliciousness of our previous tasting we try. And the difference is that the perfume is penetrating almost sickening (kind of like people who overdose themselves with perfume). My husband said, this is the exact reason why I didn't think I like truffle. But, of course, now we know better!

This is truly a special cultural and gastronomic experience that will stay with you for a long time. Should you want to hunt truffles in Tuscany, shoot us an email on