It is truffle time in Umbria!
Lets go truffle hunting
For many years we organize the truffle hunting as part of our cookery classes. Together with professional truffle hunters and their dogs we go for the precious tuber.
We meet up with our guides, Lena, the translator, and Saverio of Bianconi Tartufi, the owner of the truffle plantation, on the ramparts of Citerna, a really pretty Umbrian hill town above the Tiber valley
(For those interested in art: from here it is only a few kilometers to Monterchi in Tuscany, where the world-famous "Madonna del Parto" by Piero della Francesca can be admired. The small church of Citerna hosts a ceramic relief by Della Robbia).
From Citerna we proceed to the truffle plantation, a fenced grove, where the truffle hunt will take place. Spots with wild growing truffles are strictly confidential. The tartufai (truffle hunters) would reveal their location, if at all, only to their closest family circle.
Truffle hunting with dog sleuths
At the entrance to the truffle grove we make acquaintance with the truffle hunters and their dogs: Asia (already an experienced truffle sleuth) and Sandy (the somewhat clumsy apprentice).
A few introductory explanations about truffle hunting and off we go. The dogs are let off the leash and chase away so fast that we can hardly follow them.
After less than hundred meters Asia already begins digging violently and Giovanni, her "Padrone", has trouble to hold her back. Dogs usually do not eat the truffles as would do the truffle pigs. For that reason pigs are hardly used anymore nowadays. But a truffle is easily damaged, either by the dog's teeth or paws, and then it is only worth a fraction of the value of awhole, undamaged truffle.
Giovanni has a special instrument for digging out the truffles, the "Vanghina", a short, very narrow truffle spade. He asks who wants to dig up the truffle. One of our ladies uncovers the truffle carefully under Giovanni's guidance and then hands it around proudly to the other participants. It is dirty and unimpressive but yet has the distinctive scent of truffles and of course each of us must take a deep sniff.
And so it goes on merrily, truffle after truffle is found and dug out while Saverio gives us more explanations about truffles and truffle hunting.
After about an hour we have our little bag nearly full: 360 grams, as it turns out later on the scale.
Depending on the season and the climate there are different varieties of truffles to be found: the black summer truffle, the black winter truffle, the white spring truffle or the particularly precious white winter truffle. Ultimately, it depends very much on the vagaries of the weather and the fine noses of the dogs how many truffles are found.
After the truffle hunt we all go to visit Saverio's small but fine truffle product manufacture Tartufi Bianconi close to Città di Castello, where the truffle is processed.
But before that Saverio still wants to show us his home town Citerna. First we have a coffee in the bar with the large panoramic terrace, then he proudly leads us through the newly restored streets and into the underground cisterns, which gave their name to the village. The historical sight is very impressive, and every year more underground cisterns and wells are being unearthed.
At the Bianconi Tartufi factory we are told how the truffles are processed and preserved. In the small truffle museum we can find everything worth knowing about truffles and truffle hunting and many oddities.
In the meantime Saverio's wife Gabriella has prepared the truffle tasting. Actually "tasting" is a gross understatement. Gabriella has used the morning to prepare a veritable multi-course lunch with various truffle products.
Eating like at a friend's house
Before each course Gabriella announces what she will serve to us.
First a sip of Prosecco, then we start with the truffles. Bruschetta with various truffle and mushroom pastes, scrambled eggs with white truffle, truffle cheese, turkey roulade with black truffle ... one culinary discovery follows another. There is plenty of wine and the "tasting" will find no end ...
When we finally have finished, we do not want to miss the opportunity to buy all the delicacies to take home in the little shop of the truffle factory .
Gabriella advises us happily and passes on recipes and good advice for the use of all kinds of truffle products. A warm good bye and then we are on our way back home.
One participant brings to the point what all feel; "It was as though you have been invited to a friend's house."
Curious to go truffle hunting?
Book one of our cookery classes or culinary weeks and experience the truffle hunt and more: Cookery lessons with Mamma Ornella, sightseeing, wine tasting and shopping trips.
If you cannot join one of our cookery weeks we can also organize individual excursions for truffle hunting at Tartufi Bianconi.