Italy is known for many culinary delicacies, including cheeses, meats and wines; but few can match the truffle in terms of market value. Gathering truffles is a time-consuming task, and as yet they have proved difficult to cultivate. Both of these factors contribute to the high prices some truffles can fetch, as well as how closely truffle hunters guard their preferred hunting grounds.
There are certain geographic areas that produce larger quantities of truffles than others, and Tuscany is well-known as a truffle-producing region. The most famous Italian truffles are the aromatic white truffles that come from the Piedmont region further north, but in Tuscany you’ll find (depending on the season) white truffles, black truffles and what they call “bianchetti” truffles, which are white truffles that aren’t quite as pungent.
Traditionally, female pigs were used to help truffle hunters locate the prized fungi, which grow underground in and among the roots of trees – as sows are attracted to the smell, which is evidently similar to that of a male pig. The trouble with the pigs is that they immediately eat the truffles they find, so it’s more common now for truffle hunters to have specially trained truffle dogs do the searching, since they’re more likely to obey commands and not eat the truffles.
Most truffle hunters won’t divulge their preferred searching grounds or invite you to join them on a hunt – but if you’re intrigued by the process and want to know more, you can book a place on a truffle hunt in Tuscany. These can be all-day affairs, starting with the truffle hunt itself and ending with a meal in which the day’s “catch” figures prominently. In some cases, you may also get a truffle cooking lesson in between. There are multiple truffle seasons in Tuscany – the only month that isn’t part of the truffle season for one or another type of truffle is May – so almost no matter when you visit you can join in a hunt. Of course, the winter months are going to be colder and wetter during the actual hunting process, but just think of the reward of a hot bowl of pasta covered in shaved truffles at the end of the day!