This is How You Savor the Best of White Truffle Season in Italy

This is How You Savor the Best of White Truffle Season in Italy

Truffles are the diamonds of the food world, coveted by chefs and foodies across the globe for their heavenly aroma and distinctly earthy flavor. Their rarity, seasonality and the special means of their discovery make European truffles particularly pricey and competitively fought over. After all, they’re wild things, growing underground at the base of particular trees in specific climates, and it takes specially trained dogs and pigs to find them.

So when the rough-skinned treasures are in season, it’s time for foodies to make the culinary bucket-list trek to Italy where the world’s best truffles are found. The French may argue that, but France is the homeland of the black truffle (AKA the less desirable of the Perigord variety). Italy is the true truffle nirvana, home of the coveted white truffle, including the Alba and Piedmont varieties, and the less-pungent Marzuili.

Throughout October and November, truffle fairs spring up across the north. The annual fairs pay homage to the homely truffle with competitions, seminars, cooking demonstrations, tastings and a seemingly endless marketplace. It’s nearly impossible to not be swept up into a shopping frenzy, literally sniffing out the best fresh truffles and other local goods such as olive oil, salami, cheeses, wine and honey. It’s more than tempting to pack some up to take back home, so you’ll be glad to know that you can: truffles are one of the few raw food items that are legal to export from Italy, and they make your luggage smell amazing.

Alba White Truffle Market Photo Courtesy of Alba White Truffle Fair
The Best of Italy’s Truffle Fairs

The Alba White Truffle Fair in Piedmont, Italy takes place every weekend from October 11 to November 16, and is perhaps the most comprehensive truffle event in the country. It smells like heaven thanks to the enormous selection on display by authorized vendors. A special commission approves of every truffle present so it’s an excellent opportunity to buy, eat and learn all there is to know while also being entertained by the Alba Music Festival performances. There is also a wine festival,  a donkey “palio” race  and a variety of Alba tours going on at the same time. Local truffle hunters lead adventurers through a mock truffle hunt, and super-serious gourmands can learn pro secrets about Sensory Analysis from an official of the OIAT, the International Truffle Tasters Association.

trufflesPhoto Courtesy of Alba White Truffle Fair

The San Miniato National White Truffle Market (or La Sagra del Tartufo Bianco), is a November Tuscan gastronomic festival in the heart of truffle country, an area that yields 25 percent of Italy’s annual crop. The San Miniato white truffle, tuber magnatum pico, is also the most unique and most valuable. If you’re there the third weekend of October, you’re in luck; the town holds a combined Truffle and Mushroom Fair featuring the fantastic porcini.

In the beautiful Umbria countryside, travelers can find less-crowded culinary events in medieval hill towns such as Citta’ Di Castello which this year holds its White Truffle Festival from October 30 to November 2. Also in Umbria is the Pietralunga Truffle & White Potato Fair on October 19 and 26. And deep in the forests and countryside are small village festivals that are home to the oldest truffle dynasties in the country: The Corazzano Festival, in the Romanesque parish of San Giovanni Battista; and the Balconevisi Festival, in the ancient village of the Florentine Strozzi familia.

il fontanaro organic farm housePhoto Courtesy of Il Fontanaro Organic Farm House
Cooking With Truffles in Umbria

The best way to truly catch the local truffle fever is to check into a northern Italy villa and take some time to learn what to do with them in a real Italian kitchen. One perfect place to discover the true Italian la dolce vita is Umbria’s peaceful Paciano. The idyllic home of Il Fontanaro, Paciano is the region’s finest organic farm, villa and culinary school run by Alina Pinelli, a chef, wine sommelier and award-winning organic olive oil maker. “I love good food and love my life,” says the beautiful and spirited Pinelli, who welcomes guests from all around the world to stay in the farm’s heavenly stone villas. “I promote country slow living here and love to share my passions with my guests.” In Il Fontanaro’s main kitchen, Alina and her staff host cooking parties where guests can prepare fresh farm-to-table cuisine from the adjacent gardens. That includes a trip downstairs into the property’s vast wine cave for vintage tastings of the Fontanaro’s old Sangiovese grapes. Alina also shares her love for local vintners, organic honey harvesting, and near-religious seminars on olive oil.

Il Fontanaro Organic Farm HousePhoto Courtesy of Il Fontanaro Organic Farm House

During truffle season, Alina and her lovely mother Lucia, invite local truffle farmers to bring their latest treasures to be featured in Il Fontanaro’s daily dishes, including handmade tagliatini and pizzas topped with truffles, white onion and fennel, and baked in the Pinellis’ outdoor pizza oven. How much truffle do the Pinelli’s advise using? “Shave a little on top,” said Lucia with a grin and a glint in her eye, “then shave a little more, then more, then more until you can’t see the pasta.”

Alina and Lucia are also happy to steer you to Paciano’s nearby truffle fairs, including those in Volterra, and Giovanni d'Asso, near Siena, which also has a modest truffle museum. And if you’re so inclined, they’ll introduce you to a local expert who can lead you into the woods to try truffle hunting for yourself. When you return Alina will help turn your findings into a meal to remember, but fair warning: don’t drink too much of Lucia’s amazing organic Limoncello or you’ll have trouble remembering your own name. You can always sleep it off, however, in one of the Pinelli’s four luxurious local properties with 10 villas, some built in the 18th century, and all surrounded by heavenly private gardens, salt-water infinity pools, and views of the rolling hills, olive orchards and sunflower fields.

La Terrazza Photo Courtesy of La Terrazza dell'Eden
Rome’s Finest Truffle Menu

If time and distance are obstacles, you don’t need to venture deep into truffle country to enjoy the best of the high season harvest. While on your Roman holiday, do as privileged locals do and book ahead for Michelin-star Chef Fabio Ciervo’s world-class cuisine at Hotel Eden’s romantic La Terrazza dell’Eden for his classic White Truffle Menu served November 10-16 for €250 (around USD $317) per person. The chef promises that each diner will be served a whopping five grams of truffles in the seemingly endless tasting menu. I’ll try my best not to drool while listing the meal’s highlights, which include Jerusalem Artichoke Soup, Paolo Parisi creamy egg and white truffle, Tonnarelli with white truffle, Crispy Napolitan Pastiera, petit fours and, of course, white truffle ice cream. Buon appetito!