When we think of Italy, it’s usually images of lush green hills, vineyards, olive groves, and plates of delicious pasta that spring to mind – not bumpy fungi rooted up from underground. However, truffles are known to be some of the most precious treasures in modern (and traditional) cooking – especially in Italy, where the white Italian truffle is cream of the crop.
Whether you’re hoping to expand your culinary knowledge or looking for inspiration for your next Italian getaway, here’s a few ideas that you might like the taste of:
What is a truffle?
Truffles are a gourmet delicacy; a rare edible mushroom known as the ‘diamond of the culinary world’ thanks to its distinctive smell and flavour. They’re notoriously hard to find, growing exclusively underground close to the roots of trees – particularly oak, willow and linden trees. In the autumn months, trifalau (truffle hunters) will have a team of trained dogs or pigs at hand helping them to sniff out the distinctive smell – they’re almost impossible to find otherwise!
Italy is home to eight different species of truffle, but the world-famous tartufu bianco (white truffle) and authentic black truffle are two of the most popular. The white truffle is extremely rare – more so than any other variety – and is the most aromatic and flavourful. They can be found in northern Italy in the Piedmont region or in San Miniato, Tuscany. Chefs from around the world use these culinary treasures for their strong flavour, but as it’s too delicate to cook, the white truffle is usually served fresh; shaved on top of risotto, with pasta, or – our personal favourite – on a traditional stone-baked Italian pizza. However, these truffles come at a price; said to be practically worth their weight in gold, authentic white truffles can cost between £600 and £1,300 per lb.
Tartufo nero (black truffle) are a less rare, less tasty variety, but they are much more affordable. These warty treats can also be found in Piedmont as well as Umbria (especially around the Nera River) and, once harvested, are often made into a spread or, as is popular in Assisi, cooked in omelettes. However, if you’re in Rome, we recommend stopping by the Tre Scalini restaurant in Piazza Navona to try their signature gelato al tartufo.
Best places to see truffles
Thankfully, there are plenty of truffle-based activities for visitors to Italy, so there’s no need to start digging up tree roots. The grand Castel Monastero, surrounded by the beautiful Tuscan and Chianti countryside, offers a fantastic hunting excursion during truffle season. You will join a professional truffle hunter and his team of trained dogs as you explore the stunning fields and wooded areas in search for the area’s greatest treasure.
Alba White Truffle Fair
Alternatively, head to Alba in Piedmont for the annual White Truffle Fair. Running from early October to mid-November, the fair is known as one of the best in Italy, with a whole host of world-famous market stalls for visitors to browse, touch, and smell the many truffles from local vendors and truffle hunters.
The event is just as much a cultural festival as a celebration of the area’s fantastic truffles; Alba Qualitia is also held at the same time, so visitors will have the opportunity to discover wines and local cheeses, egg pastas, and cured meats from the area. The Medieval Fair offers glimpses into the area’s history, and the much-anticipated Palio (Donkey Race) has been running for decades and makes up an essential part of the festivities with parades, trumpets, and drum rolls.
Fancy cooking with truffles? Take a look at celebrity chef (and Citalia ambassador) Gennaro Contaldo’s video recipe for tagliatelle with wild mushrooms and truffles – it’s perfect for autumn!
Originally posted October 2015.