Italy, it is always a destination for a holiday, a vacation with friends, family and even solo trip! It’s been my 3rd time in Italy now, and I’ve been in almost all the big and the famous tourism cities through the years, and now thanks to the job I have, I’ve got the golden chances to experience something more Italian in the small towns and cities, and even country sides. Today, I would like to talk about my truffle hunting tour experience in Arezzo, Tuscany where you will never know the great treasure hidden in this place if you are just searching for “truffle hunting tour” in your browser!
First of all, I think not many people, especially people from Asia know a lot about truffle, as an edible product. Truffle is a kind of mushroom which normally grows around some specific type of trees in the wild. In the earlier time, truffle was discovered by chance as a precious culinary ingredient but now, it is already possible to cultivate the environment where black truffle likes to grow, however, the very precious white truffle is still remained in wild. The most famous truffle in the world are French black winter truffle and Italian white winter truffle. How precious they are? “Diamond in the kitchen” is the nickname of them and thousands of euro per kilo is just an estimated price every year, and in the business world, the trading price of Italian white winter truffle can be varied even twice a day – pretty much like stock market! Well, now you think truffle must be a product that not everyone can afford? Answer is NO. In Tuscany area, they can find all five types of truffle that have culinary value and among these types, black summer truffle, which are normally harvested from late May till late August, are very price-friendly and for most of Italian families, to cook with black summer truffle is a normal kitchen activity. That morning in May, my truffle tour is exactly about searching for those black summer truffle in the woods.
Around 10 in the morning, we gathered at the factory of Boscovivo which is the famous truffle brand in Arezzo and also the organizer of this truffle hunting tour. I’ve got another 3 guests in the tour who’re actually travelling from States to Italy for a relaxing trip with only mother and daughters, lovely! The owner of Boscovivo, daughter of the brand founders, the second generation to run this family business, is the private driver as well as the chef for us today! Our destination for truffle hunting activity actually varies according to the season and the real truffle harvest situation, of course, some very precious and secret truffle hunting locations still remained unfolded to the tourists. When we arrive at the place, the truffle hunter with his two hunting dogs has waited for us. To our surprise, the truffle hunter is already 90 plus years old and his two dogs are just too cute comparing to our imagination of a “hunting” dog. Before entering into the woods, we were introduced the basic knowledge about truffle in the world and in Italy, truffle nutrition value, the truffles growing in Tscany region in Italy as well as the story about our truffle hunter and his dogs. During this 10 minute casual talk, my jeans have been printed by these two cutties, and they’ve got very good sense to camera all the time, to give you the best angle and smile. I hope the hunter won’t be jealous that I only take pictures for his dogs, not him!
Lead by the little hunters running like thunder, we were almost running into the woods. Just after the first 5 minute, we had been starting to harvest fresh black summer truffle from under the ground. The dog crazily dig into the soil around tree roots, and once its head was up, the hunter rushed to its mouth and grabbed the truffle out right from the mouth by his bare fingers. WOW! That’s how to hunt the truffle! The fresh truffle from the land looks pretty intact with a size similar to Ferrero chocolate. With hunter’s special language to the dogs, those two cutties were running back and forth in the woods happily while after only 20 minutes, we’ve already harvested quite a good amount of truffles, maybe 20 or 30 pieces?
Running after the dogs in the woods and grabbing the fresh truffle from dogs’ mouthes, well, you might think it’s quite easy right? Actually, it all depends on the years’ experience and practice between the hunters and his dogs. For the hunters, no one will tell them where you can find truffle or even possibly you can find truffle, so that means, all the hunters need to explore in the wild and search by their experience and sometimes, feeling. Once they’ve discovered some good spots, they will try to memorize the locations so that in the next season or next year, they will bring their dogs back to the place again. The exploring takes great time and effort year after year, and all the spots are very precious and secret, truffle hunters are mostly solo workers, and they are mostly in their late ages. Mentioning the animals people train to search for the truffle, you might hear about pigs! Yes, pigs can do the job, but they won’t be as ideal as your dog friend as they will eat the truffle straight away. Well, we cannot avoid the most natural character of a pig right? The training starts when it is still a puppy, and as training goes on, the hunting dogs will show their different skills, as some of them can only find one or two type of truffle, while some small group of dogs could find all types! Because of this, the value of a hunting dog is also different but in general, they are super expensive (few thousand of euro as minimum price). In Italy, there is also regulation for truffle hunting activities, for example the truffle hunter can only bring maximum 2 dogs with him every time and the total harvest weight cannot exceed a certain number, and the truffle hunting activity can be only done between sunrise and sunset, etc.
I mentioned the way how truffle hunter caught the truffle from dog’s mouth right? Well, it isn’t easy as it looks. Basically, you have to do it as fast as possible so that the precious truffle won’t be broken and destroyed by dogs’ sharp teeth. As the hunting tour going, little dogs tried to cheat on us by eating the truffle they’ve found immediately without noticing us, good boy! That’s your extra reward of hard working! During the tour, actually you can also try to grab truffle from dog’s mouth as well as to bury some truffle randomly around the tree to challenge our little friends. Well, we were 100% beaten by their professional hunting skill. May is the beginning of black summer truffle’s harvest season. By observing the fresh truffle we’ve got that morning, we were introduced some knowledge about the different mature stages of truffle, the broken truffle and even the extreme case how a truffle damaged by insect eggs would be like.
The whole truffle hunting in the woods takes around 1.5 hours, and we visited the factory afterwards. In the factory, we were introduced to the different process how truffle is handled from purchasing from a truffle hunter till being shipped out to a customer. The process includes a lot of filtering, checking, and washing which until today, they still keep hand-by-hand activities in some very important steps. Surprisingly, we were also told that every shipment of fresh truffle needs to pass the 3rd party’s checking and authorization. How much workload it has?!
Around 1pm, it finally comes the lunch time. We were seated in Boscovivo’s showroom where a full lunch table has already been set up with dishes of truffle appetizers and prosecco. Right in front of us is the small cooking station where the owner will be the chef and show us some easy truffle recipes to be taken away and also prepared the hot dishes with all the fresh truffle we’ve found that morning. Truffle is precious food ingredient which can create great dishes however, to know the different characters and how to cook them is critical otherwise, you will just waste it. The most basic thing I’ve learnt is black truffle is born to be warmed up for better truffle flavor while white truffle has to be eaten in raw. As the lunch going on, we’ve served also warm appertizers before first and second main courses, as well as the wonderful truffle dessert! My favorite is truffle acacia honey, perfect match to the truffle cheese or toast!
To list a few truffle products we’ve tried during the lunch:
- Fresh black summer truffle (warmed up)
- Black truffle sauce
- Carpaccio (Black truffle slice in extra virgin olive oil)
- White truffle acacia honey
- Truffle salami
- Truffle cheese
When we finished lunch, the clock has closed to 3pm, it’s time for an Italian espresso to close the whole tour!