The Dirt on Truffles: Hunting a Highly Prized Fungus
When you order a heavenly truffle dish at a five-star restaurant, you’re probably not thinking about the hours of work and manual labor that goes into finding the highly-prized fungus.
To this day, the magical mushroom is hunted by hand, or should I say by paw? Many truffle farmers use the traditional hog or pig, but special breeds of dog are also employed to sniff out truffles, which lay hidden beneath layers of soil and leaves in the forests of Europe.
Last week I brought my guests of the Tuscany edition of my trips to a beautiful, family-owned 15th century villa in Chianti to see one of these prized dogs in action – and also to experience the taste of truffles that came straight from the earth.
San Miniato, where the villa is located, is famous for its truffles, so much so that it has a white truffle festival every year. White truffles are the most-sought after in gourmet circles; one collected by the family was sold for 8,000 euros.
It was truffle hunting dog Cioco who found that prize under an oak tree; he is the family’s Lagotto Romagnolo and has been training on the farm since the age of four months.
Did we find an 8,000 euro truffle on our expedition? No luck this time, though we did come across some great specimens that we got to cook up in the family kitchen at the end of the hunt.
Watching Cioco and his mistress Francesca in action was a great pleasure. We noticed how Cioco hunted- he kept his nose to the ground and sniffed everywhere; occasionally he would stop and dig, letting out a breath to signal that no, there was no truffle to be found. Francesca checked just in case, as black truffles grow on the surface and can be found by eye.
Cioco is to be trusted though- his sense smell is incredible. He once found a 354 gram white truffle under water!
Watching Cioco and listening to Francesca, we learned that truffles are usually found at the base of oak and poplar trees. We also had to fight the urge to dust the dirt off the truffles we found, as the dirt preserves the flavor.
It definitely worked. We brought our truffles back to the farmhouse and watched as they were transformed into gnocchi con tartufo. We shaved the truffles we found ourselves onto the pasta- there is no better way to experience this gourmet wonder, or to experience the rich culinary heritage of the Chianti region.
Check back next week for another Delectable Destinations adventure in Italy.
Contact Carol at Delectable Destinations for detailed itineraries and check out the website for trip details.
Carol Ketelson is the owner and operator of Delectable Destinations LLC. Dedicated to planning, co-ordinating and curating customized group tours to hand-picked destinations. As an experienced travel planner, Carol’s customized itineraries, specialized tours and off-the-beaten-path experiences create memorable journeys for her small groups of singles, couples, divorced, widowed and solo travelers seeking exceptional trips into the culture and cuisine of destinations around the world. Spring and Fall bookings invite travelers to taste delectable local cuisine, culturally rich traditions and mesmerizing sights. For over 10 years, Carol’s tours have captured the true essence of Tuscany, the Amalfi Coast, Puglia, Spain, Ireland and India.