The truffle is one of the world’s most sought-after gastronomic treasures and a true but not only Italian boast. Behind the unique aroma and enveloping flavour of this incredible hypogean mushroom lies a mesmerising world, filled with secrets guarded amidst the undergrowth of the woods and the symbiosis between man, earth and animals.
The magic of the truffle and the passion of the hunters
The truffle is one of the most coveted delicacies in the culinary world. Its marbled flesh, heady scent and rich flavour make it a unique ingredient.
However, it is not only a gastronomic product, but also a sensory experience.
Truffle hunters are the skilled custodians of this magic. They head into the woods, often in secret and by moonlight.
Yes, because secrecy in this world is everything: truffle grounds are often well hidden from the eyes of us mere mortals, dense forests that very few people know about. To keep the truffle harvesting a secret, it is not unusual for truffle hunters to visit them at night, guided by their faithful four-legged companions.
Truffle hunters have their own distinctive style that reflects both tradition and an adjustment to modern needs. Over the course of history, truffle hunting has changed ‘sides’ several times: practised both by peasants who sold truffles to the nobility, and by the nobility themselves as a pastime in the 17th century, today it is a business for professionals. This is why contemporary prospectors wear technical clothing, consisting of waterproof jackets, sturdy trousers and hiking boots enabling them to move easily through the woods. Quilted shirts and truffle hats are often part of the traditional attire for the benefit of the many tourists for whom truffle hunts are organised.
The symbiosis between man and nature
Truffle hunting is a delicate dance with man and the earth. Truffle hunters need to be in tune with nature, to know the different truffle species, the ideal terrain and the climatic conditions that favour the growth of these precious mushrooms. A craft that requires profound knowledge, passed down from generation to generation, often within the same families.
Truffle hunters know that respect for the environment is crucial to preserving this natural gift. In fact, truffle harvesting must be sustainable to ensure their survival over time. Traditional tools such as picks and shovels are often used to gently dig around the truffle without damaging the mushroom and tree roots.
And it is precisely in this delicate context that animals have played a crucial role over time.
The importance of four-legged companions
Trained dogs are among the best allies of truffle hunters. Their exceptional sense of smell can sniff out truffles even several centimetres deep into the ground.
But is it true that truffle pigs also exist? Absolutely! In Italy this practice has been banned since 1985, but testimonies from the past, dating back to the times of the Ancient Romans, tell us that pigs were the most used truffle hunters, thanks to their extremely well-developed sense of smell, their stubborn nature and their being super gluttons for truffles. In short, infallible in the search.
However, pigs are untrainable, hence their frantic digging ended up damaging the soil and tree roots, often leaving the hunters with no loot, eaten by the pigs themselves. These characteristics decreed the end of the pigs’ career as hunters, to the benefit of the much more manageable dogs.
The truffle in cuisine
Once discovered and carefully harvested, the truffle reaches the tables of gourmets all over the world. It has incredible culinary versatility: it can be grated (though experts would rather say shaved) on pasta, risotto, salads, velvety soups, and creams or even paired with cheeses and meat, while truffle paste is often used with bruschetta.
The intense and unmistakable aroma and flavour of truffles turn any dish into an extraordinary experience.
For a chef or restaurateur, befriending a truffle hunter is always an important professional goal that can lead to countless satisfactions (and savings!). However, truffle hunting is more than just an activity at the service of cooking, it is a lifestyle that embodies the beauty of Italy and its timeless food and wine tradition.
Truffle Fairs in Italy
In addition to the truffle trade, Italy hosts some of the most important events dedicated to the truffle, attracting enthusiasts, chefs and the simply curious visitors from all over the world.
Here are some of the most important:
Fiera Internazionale del Tartufo Bianco d’Alba
This fair dedicated to the white truffle of Alba has successfully reached over ninety editions and is held every autumn in Piedmont. The international auctions for its truffles are legendary.
Mostra Mercato Nazionale del Tartufo Bianco di San Miniato
San Miniato, in Tuscany between Florence and Pisa, offers white truffle lovers the opportunity to savour extraordinary dishes made with fresh truffles, paired with local wines.
Fiera Nazionale del Tartufo Bianco di Acqualagna
This event dedicated to the white truffle is held in the Marche region, in Acqualagna, another renowned place for white truffle harvesting. The fair also offers conferences, cultural events and exhibitions related to the world of truffles.
Nero Norcia – Mostra Mercato Nazionale del Tartufo Nero Pregiato
This small town in Umbria is famous for its production of black truffles. The event is held between February and March, when Norcia becomes a fragrant culinary paradise.
Mostra Mercato nazionale del Tartufo Bianco di Gubbio
Back in Umbria, again for an event that hosts truffle auctions, cooking classes, shows and concerts celebrating the art, culture, and gastronomy of truffles.