On the Truffle Trail
Come autumn, every waiter worth his salt, working in the Langhe region of Piedmont in northern Italy, has two words on his tongue: “With truffle?” The inquiry comes with a presentation of said white truffle (the rare Tuber magnatum) on a silver platter … though with their tumor-like form and grayish hue, you could hardly describe them as “appetizing.” This is the fruiting body of a subterranean fungus, often confused with a mushroom, and in October, at the peak of white truffle season, a kilo can sell for up to €6,000 (about $6,250).
Piedmont, which literally translates as “foot of the mountain,” isn’t overrun with visitors like so many other places in Italy (you’ll most likely know the capital, Turin, being home to Fiat and Martini). Le Langhe, named for its low-lying hills, sits further south in the region and is UNESCO-listed for its outstanding natural beauty, perfect for snail-pace travel and unhurried food. The landscape is impossibly romantic, with dreamy looking fairy-tale castles with slender turrets and ivy-clad towers, set amid forests cobwebbed in mists and awash with rippling ripe vineyards of the Barolo and Barbaresco winemakers. Their celebrated nebbiolo grapes (the name derived from the Italian nobile, meaning “noble”) have rich notes of violet, cherries, and prune. The truffle capital of the world is the attractive city of Alba, with its main thoroughfare, Vittorio Emanuele, chock full of shops selling all things truffle from the actual gnarly fruiting bodies, when in season, to truffle-infused oil, cheese, and pasta. From October to December, the Fiera del Tartufo (or “truffle fair”) attracts thousands of visitors, who flock here for the cooking shows, classes, and tastings, while the Knights of the White Truffle gather at the magnificent, red-brick 11th-century Castello Grinzane Cavour to auction the largest of white truffle. In 2018, a truffle weighing around 2 pounds sold for $92,450.
Not content with merely tasting the fungus, I want to find my own, so I set off with truffle hunter Marta Menegaldo and her Lagotto Romagnolo dog, Luna, on a truffle hunt. Originally reared as duck retrievers, this Italian breed is renowned for its superior foraging abilities, and we follow Luna through woods of wild hazelnut and chestnut groves as she runs from tree to tree hoping to catch a scent. Although the ideal time for truffle hunting is from October through to December, different varieties are found throughout the year, and it’s clear Luna loves the challenge. There are around 6,000 official truffle hunters operating with licenses in Piedmont, but in truth, many older truffle hunters remain under .…
By Kate Wickers
This is an excerpt from the latest issue of Porthole Cruise and Travel Magazine. To continue reading, click above for a digital or print subscription.