Truffle hunting (and eating) in Abruzzo – a great outdoor experience
Truffle is not something that is normally associated with Central- Southern Italy and truffle hunting may not strike you as one of the typical holiday activities in Abruzzo. But as it often happens, there’s more to Abruzzo than you can imagine- you can indeed have a great truffle hunting experience as part of your Abruzzo holiday. Follow me…
The gourmet amongst you will know Italian truffle as “Tartufo d’Alba” (named after the town of Alba in Piedmont), an expensive treat; whilst the majority of us have probably only experienced it in dubious quality products like commercial-grade truffle oil or truffle sauce – which are often made form mushrooms whose scent resembles truffle, or even worse from chemical flavoring.
We had a chance to discover “the real deal” and set the record straight about Italian truffle during a truffle-hunting activity tour in the Abruzzo countryside led by Italia Sweet Italia in the area of Trigno Sinello in Abruzzo. We visited a “tartufaia” (Italian name for a truffle growing area) near the picturesque hilltop town of Lentella. We accompanied a truffle hunter and his dog in the search, in beautiful and scenic surroundings overlooking the valley up to the Adriatic sea, and then cooked a delicious lunch with our truffle “treasures”.
Valter, a local vet, dog trainer and all-round truffle expert, welcomed our small group and showed us some tools of the trade. This metal-edged stick called “vanghella” is used to poke around the roots of the trees where truffles grow, helping the dog uncover the precious tuber.
Valter explains to us that there are three main types of truffle commonly found in Abruzzo:
- The “Bianchetto”(actually two species, Tuber Borchii Vitt or Tuber Abidum Pico) , growing from January to March
- The “Scorzone” summer black truffle (Tuberum Aestivum) from May to July – the one we are looking for today
- The “Tartufo bianco” (Tuber Magnatum Pico) in October-November– the rarest, most expensive one.
Hold on- I hear you say- isn’t it called “Tartufo Bianco d’Alba” and is it not supposed to come from Piedmont? Well, according to our host Valter, most of the truffle sold as “d’Alba” comes actually from Abruzzo! I don’t really know whether this is accurate or not- surely, there have been exceptional discoveries of white truffle recently, like this 680g truffle specimen found in Schiavi d’Abruzzo, not far from where we are today.
Another thing you didn’t know about truffle? There is a myth about pigs being used to sniff truffles – well, apparently it’s just a myth. Whilst pigs could potentially do it (they’re clever animals with a fine sense of smell) they’re not really handy to carry around in a car to get to the truffle field; but most of all, it’s much harder to get hold of the precious truffle once a giant sow has sunk its teeth in!
“Scorzone” truffle grows on the roots of oaks, which are plentiful in this area. Valter estimates that one in 400 trees will have truffle growing underneath it, and also reveals that it is always the same trees in a given area- hence, the competition between truffle hunters to discover the “hot spots” and keep them secret by carefully covering the hole dug by the dog and their traces.
Also, truffle hunting (in Abruzzo or elsewhere) is usually an hobby for the early bird – as you want to get to the field before everyone else does!!
Here is Fritz – our truffle dog – tracking down a small truffle. When he finally finds it, he (reluctantly) gives it back to his owner and is rewarded with a dog biscuit!
Fritz did a very good job on the day, finding three small truffles despite the field being a real puddle of mud after days of rain and unusually cold weather. Also, the wet climate does not help with the quality of the truffle – the ones we find are not well “matured”, as you can see from the white color on the inside. Still, they are fresh and smell delicious. earthy and musky.
Once back to the factory, the truffles are cleaned with a damp rough cloth (NEVER soak them in water) and peeled to remove the dirt. They are now ready to be used!
Coming soon- a simple but tasty recipe for pasta with ricotta and trufflesand braised chicken with truffle shavings, the dishes we ate on the day.
Truffle hunting in Abruzzo has proven a surprising and satisfactory experience – I can’t wait to be back for more, especially in winter when the premium “tartufo bianco” (white truffle) will be hopefully available! Stay tuned…
My truffle hunting experience was courtesy of Italia Sweet Italia - get in touch with Fabrizio for more info and a quote