THE TRUFFLE SHUFFLE: WHERE TO FIND TRUFFLES IN ITALY
March 28, 2017
Heading to Italy and want to experience a fresh truffle (not the fake stuff you’re getting in the U.S.)? Learn where and when to findtruffles in Italy from an expert!
So you’re a foodie planning to eat your way through Italy. I totally get it, it’s some of the best cuisine in the world. Italy is known for its fresh herbs, pasta, cheeses, cured meats, and, of course, its wine, but forget about those. I’m here to talk to you about another edible delight, the one with the unmistakable, rich, pungent flavor and aroma – truffles. Read on to learn where and in which seasons you’ll find truffles in Italy!
DID YOU KNOW? Because truffles have a short shelf life, most truffle oil doesn’t actually contain truffles. It’s usually a concoction of olive oil and chemicals to mimic the truffle taste. Might think twice next time you order those truffle fries!
Truffles must be eaten fresh, which makes a visit to Italy even more appealing to truffle lovers. Italians have been hunting and cooking with these reclusive underground fungi for generations. Adding a few truffle shavings will usually double the price of a savory pasta or creamy risotto dish, but their flavors are also used in everyday Italian cuisine, such as eggs at breakfast time. Now that I’ve made your mouth water, here are some recommendations of where you can find the best, freshly harvested truffles in Italy.
SO WHERE DO YOU FIND TRUFFLES IN ITALY?
Most Italian truffles can be found in northern and central Italy, particularly Piedmont, Tuscany, Umbria or Le Marche. The farther south you go the scarcer they become due to changes in climate and soil.
For the ultimate truffle experience, head to Piedmont in the fall. It’s center stage for everything truffle, including many famed truffle festivals overflowing with these culinary treasures. There is one town, however, that boasts the biggest truffle festival in Italy, and perhaps the world. The town of Alba hosts their annual Fiera Internazionale del Tartufo Bianco d’Alba or the International White Truffle Fair.
Running throughout October and November, the Alba fair celebrates the most prized truffle of all, the White Truffle, comma or tuber magnatum. This truffle, with its whitish-brown, smooth-like surface, is undoubtedly the most fragrant and flavorful specimen with pleasant hints of fermented cheese and garlic.
If you don’t want to venture that far north, head to Acqualagna in Le Marche, which is thought by some to be a close second to Piedmont as a white truffle haven. It holds a lesser known truffle fair but is still wonderful. It also takes place in October and November.
Or, if you’d like to combine truffles with the must-sees of Florence, there are white truffle festivals and events in the towns of Tuscany, including Volterra, Palaia and San Miniato in the fall.
Umbria is also known for its black truffles, with their smell and taste reminiscent of the earth, fruit, comma and chocolate. The Black Perigord, a black truffle that equals the white truffle’s notoriety, is harvested in the winter. This truffle, with its dark rough exterior, is also the more common outside of Italy; it has been successfully cultivated (unlike the White Truffle) in other parts of Europe, Australia and North America.
If you’re visiting Italy in the summer, then you’re still in luck. The more common black summer truffle, found in Umbria, is harvested from May to September. Umbria supplies Italy with 80% of the country’s truffles, with the majority being the summer truffle.
IS IT POSSIBLE TO FIND TRUFFLES IN ITALY ON YOUR OWN?
Wherever you go, don’t expect to find any truffles on your own, because this notoriously fickle fungi can only be pinpointed underground with trained pigs or dogs, and their locations are a closely guarded secret amongst truffle hunters. You can of course book truffle hunting tours, such as the Truffle Hunter in Tuscany or a truffle hunting adventure in Le Marche.
So there you go, an insider’s recommendation to where you’ll find truffles in Italy. I’ve noted which varieties each region is known for and what time of year to go to find them (white in the fall, black in the winter and the summer truffle in, of course, the summer). So whenever you do plan your Italian truffle adventure, you’re bound to tantalize your gastronomic senses and experience truffles like you never have before. Buon appetito!
Jonah Ward is a self-employed artist working and living in Oakland, California. When not engaged in his artwork, you can find him working on his family’s farm outside of Willits, CA where he and a small group of friends recently planted their own truffle orchard with both Black Perigord and Summer/Burgundy truffles. You can see his nature inspired artwork at www.jonahward.com and read the progress of his truffle orchard at his blog at www.seeknofurther.com.