White truffle hunting in Italy: flavours, places and traditions
White truffle is a gastronomic excellence of Italy.
With its unmistakable fragrance and aroma, it is so important that every year in autumn, between October and November, the International Alba White Truffle Fair is held in Piedmont.
The white truffle hunting, carried out together with the truffle dog, is one of the most exciting activities that takes place exclusively from September to December every year.
What is the white truffle?
White truffle is a fungus that lives underground. Called “Tuber Magnatum Pico”, it is the king of truffles, appreciated all over the world. For this reason, it is necessary to enhance its taste and quality while cooking.
If you want to go white truffle hunting, you must be informed that the soils in which this fungus grows most are those where there are black and white poplars, oaks, limes, hazelnut trees, white willows and black hornbeams.
In addition to this, it is essential to know that truffle does not tolerate pollution. For this reason, the truffle hunting must be carried out in uncontaminated woods. Being an underground fungus (that is to say, a fungus which lives below the ground) it can be found at a depth of metres, but also a few centimetres from the ground.
The white truffle has got extremely different characteristics from the black one.
First of all, with regard to the size, you can even find very small white truffles (such as a walnut). However, those who go truffle hunting and find them as large as oranges or even melons always cause a sensation. Of course they are rare and really worth a lot of money, but they are not impossible to find.
The white truffle cannot be cultivated and must be harvested only from September until December.
Even the shape goes to affect its final cost and depends on the soil in which the truffle has grown. All the white truffles look like potatoes in their appearance. However, there are those with a smoother and more delicate shape because they are grown in more brittle soil. On the contrary, those with the most jagged and irregular appearance were grown near roots and stones.
Finally, the colour is also influenced by the soil and the plant with which it is grown in symbiosis. White truffles range from a light brown colour to a hazelnut colour with shades of red or white.
How to enhance the white truffle while cooking
The white truffle is extremely valuable and needs to be enhanced properly.
How to cook white truffle? It is grated on the dish strictly raw after having brushed it in order to remove the soil very gently. For example, the white truffle from Alba is perfect when paired with the typical local dish, the “Tajarin” (egg noodles), and grated abundantly raw.
Also perfect with Piedmontese risotto, cooked with fondue and served with grated truffle on top. It is also common to combine a poor dish (fried egg) with fine white truffle grated on the top.
Finally, white truffle and “carne cruda all’albese” (steak tartare with truffles) are one of the best combinations that can be made.
The white truffle is kept in the fridge closed in a glass jar with a napkin or paper towel wrapped. We must be careful to change the napkin every day and eat the truffle as quickly as possible. A final foresight is that of not removing all the soil from the truffle immediately for longer conservation.
Where does white truffle grow in Italy?
The white truffle hunting experience is certainly very engaging and involves the “trifolau” (truffle hunter) from mid-September until December at night only and with his dogs.
The most interesting Italian places to enjoy this kind of experience are absolutely Piedmont, in particular Alba and the Langhe area, as well as Acqualagna in Le Marche and San Miniato in Tuscany.
The Langhe are one of the most relevant territories for the growth of the white truffle, also thanks to the soil rich in calcium, very aerated and soft-moist. In addition to this, the precipitations, generally more abundant in Piedmont (but also in Upper Umbria) allow the truffle to grow and develop.
Acqualagna and Pesaro-Urbino province are, after Alba, the territories where the white truffle has the best chance of being found.
In particular, Alba and the Langhe allow not only to devote themselves to the truffle hunting but also to go and discover this wonderful area, declared a UNESCO Wold Heritage Site.
In the historic centre of Alba, visitors can admire numerous churches, museums and monuments of historical interest.
In addition to this, in the surrounding area, there are many castles and fortresses such as the Castle of Grinzane Cavour (for a period of time the residence of Camillo Benso, Count of Cavour) or the Castle of Serralunga d’Alba, where visitors can discover historical details and beauties of other times.
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