Truffle hunting: what to know
The truffle is considered one of the elite foods in the world, but it is in Piedmont that we can find the king of all truffles, the White of Alba. We try to answer the most frequently asked questions about truffles in general, search activity and truffle fairs.
The basics: do chocolate truffles grow on trees?
This which seems a joke was instead a question of a foreign tourist.
It’s good to do nothing for granted: here we talk about hypogeous mushrooms growing under the ground and not chocolate truffles that have been invented to resemble these tubers. Even the mushroom term can mislead you, you do not have to think of porcini but rather a potato.
The term truffle comes from the vulgar Latin “tufera” which had in the Middle Ages negative resonances, even poisoned fruit, of plant tumor. Truffles are the fruiting body of mushrooms born and living under the ground, for this reason they are called hypogea, belong to the family of Tuberaceae, class of Ascomiceti.
The spores are reproduced in cluster structures called Ascospora. They do not produce seeds or flowers, leaves or roots: truffles exist due to the symbiosis with the roots of plants from which minerals and other nutrients are exchanged. For this reason, the type of plant affects the characteristics of truffles: for white, the main responsible plants are wild poplar, oak, lime and wild willow.
Black or white?
The precious black truffle called Tuber Melanosporum Vitt is found in Piedmont, Umbria (Norcia) and France. It has a black surface that is smooth and compact while the cut is dark with light veins and sometimes purple reflections. It grows in the same period of white.
Tuber aestivum, known as a shortslead, is the typical truffle of the summer, the less valuable one that, to tell the truth, does not smell great taste, but it is good at times when nothing grows. It has a very rough and dark surface while inside is sometimes almost white. Sliced finely on a hot preparation, or seasoned with oil and salt on a Piedmontese toma, manages to release the best of itself.
Tuber Magnatum Pico is the name of White Sunflower Truffle, considered the king of truffles and surely the most expensive of all. Its season runs from late September to January. It has a light, beige color with white veins inside. The shape reflects the area where it is found: the hard and compact clay of the Langhe tend to press around the truffle that needs to be made and can not grow uniform. The Roero and Monferrato sands favor truffles that are more regular than potatoes.
Search, reserach or clearing (cava)?
Different ways to call for truffle research. In Umbria and Tuscany the term “cava” (clearing) is used more. In Piedmont “search” but someone stumbles with “research“.
Why paying for a truffle hunting?
There are so many information, curiosities and notions that we reveal during our truffle research, one of the most sought after and perhaps still very mysterious activities … Meet the “truffle” or “trifulau” (to say to Piedmontese) is already an experience In itself. They are legendary characters who live in secrets and observation wandering around forests in search of truffles for resale at restaurants, markets, fairs. To see with one’s eyes the relationship between man and dog is the other great added value. Continue reading to find out more good reasons.
Real or simulated?
The true truffle research is not a walk: it takes several hours and requires it to march into woods and damp environments, not hospitable, out of the way, in the darkness of the night, or very early in the morning to avoid “being seen”. Our trusty trifles instead offer our guests a somewhat simpler pathway, where amphibians and camouflage are not necessary, but they can still find truffles on distances to everyone’s reach. Some guests require night-time search and come equipped, but the overwhelming majority of people prefer a bit more soft experience.
Can you cultivate truffles?
Finding truffles is a rewarding experience because we know that their cultivation is not possible, at least for whites. For black truffles, culture systems have been studied and put into practice, but they do not always prove to be completely reliable. That is why knowing a truffle and carping the secrets taught by his grandfather remains the only way perhaps primitive but definitely effective. This also explains why white truffles are so expensive!
Are pigs used in the search?
It’s hard to imagine a truffle going into the woods with a pig in the hood! Perhaps in the Middle Ages and perhaps in France the pig was used but today definitely not! We can assume that the pig eating these tubers found in the woods attracted the curiosity of men. Today, however, we also know that the pig is pushing the nose to the ground impetuously, literally the undergrowth causing damage to the delicate ecosystem that originates the truffle.
The dog is the real attraction during the search. Leads unleashed in areas that he knows well, having explored it hundreds of times since the beginning of training when he was still a puppy of about six months. Only dogs with a good smell are chosen for this task. The search for the truffle then becomes an alternate story of the truffle interrupted by the dog itself that as soon as it begins to dig it must be blocked in order to avoid ruining its delicate tubers with its paws. First you hear the truffle hunter talking about how he bred the dog, the largest truffle ever found, of the surrounding plants and a moment later you find yourself with your hands in the ground!
Can I help during the research?
Participants will be able to help the truffle hunter in the truffle extraction phase from the ground: a gentle operation where the fingers are used to palpate the hole dug by the dog and notice the surface of the truffle. Sometimes it is necessary to take some land with your hands and smell it to see if the dog has dug in the right spot or if it is distracted by a smoother smell to our smell, previously left by another tuber already removed.
When is the best period for a serach?
The search for truffles can be done all year long, taking into account that the types of truffles found will be those of the current season: the White Alba truffle can be found only from late September to January. In the summer, when everything is dry and very hot, you can still find (if lucky) the so-called “scorzoni“, much less precious. Their aroma and taste is much lower than that of white but the experience of seeing the dog at work, knowing the trifulau and learning some secrets, does not change!
Main Truffle Fairs in Piedmont
If you visit Piedmont in the fall, you could combine the search for truffles with a visit to one of the many fairs taking place in the hilly and southern area of the region.
From the 2nd weekend of October to the 2nd weekend of November: International Alba White Truffle Fair
1st and 2nd Sunday of October: Montiglio Monferrato (AT) – regional fair;
2nd Sunday of October: Bergamasco (AL) – regional fair; Odalengo Piccolo (AL) – regional fair;
3rd and 4th Sunday of October: National Truffle Fair of Moncalvo (AT);
4th Sunday of October: regional truffle fair of Incisa Scapaccino (AT); Trisobbio (AL) – regional fair;
1st Sunday of November: Montechiaro d’Asti (AT) – national fair; San Damiano d’Asti (AT) – regional fair; Canelli (AT) regional fair; Rivalba (TO) – national fair;
2nd and 3rd Sunday of November: national fair of white truffle Murisengo (AL);
3rd weekend of November: Asti regional truffle fair;
3rd and 4th Sunday of November: San Sebastiano Curone (AL) – national fair;
4th Sunday of November: Castelnuovo Don Bosco (AT) – regional fair;
Last Sunday in November: regional fair of White truffle and Roero wines, in Vezza d’Alba (CN); Acqui terme (AL) – regional fair.
When we finally have the truffle between our hands it is important to know how to evaluate quality using our senses: touch, smell and sight. The price of truffles increases when the aesthetic appearance is impeccable while truffles of small size, perhaps with some slight cut or hole, maintain a flavor and taste flawless, costing much less. An excessive amount of ammonia is a sign of a truffle to be discarded, as well as a bad consistency. That is why these evaluations are important and help us understand if the price you pay is good.
Are the truffles found during the search mine?
No! The reason is very simple: the price of truffle (especially white) varies daily and it is impossible to establish the amount in advance. Those who promise to bring you home the truffles found during the search are probably charging the highest price without taking into account the season and quality. Almost all truffle hunters are well prepared to sell their truffles at the end of their research, and they do not always have a small weighing scale with them to weigh the tuber by applying the price of that day.
How much does a research cost?
Rates vary depending on the area where you are willing to come. In general, the areas around Alba are more careful, while the province of Asti is less. Some trifulau charge a person per person which increases if the person is alone or if he is only a couple …
For this reason we prefer to charge a PER GROUP rate which remains unchanged for 2 or 15 people.
Areas around Alba: 190 Euros;
Areas around Asti: 150 Euros.
What can I add to the research?
We always recommend a qualified tour guide who before and during the search for truffle introduces the territory with specific references to geology, shape and composition of the soil, botanicals and other curiosities indispensable to understand the world of truffles (and even wines!).
A tasting of truffles and truffle products (creams, cheeses, salami) is certainly the best way to end the quest by personally testing the difference between white truffle and black truffles. This option is available both in Alba and around Asti.
Please email us for more information on the rates for these additional services.
Lunch in a traditional farmhouse or trattoria.
We also have the opportunity to have lunch in the same estate where research has started. Limited availability.
Written by Marco Scaglione