No discussion of autumn harvests would be complete without mentioning truffles. These little treasures are literally worth their weight in gold and are considered a delicacy, especially the white variety.
Truffles are similar to mushrooms. They grow underground, attached to the roots of certain trees by their own very delicate and extensive root system. Unlike mushrooms, however, they don’t appear above ground so the way to find them is by detecting their scent. This is accomplished either by trained dogs (for white truffles) or trained pigs (for black truffles). Truffle hunters, or trifolau, know exactly where to search and exactly how to harvest the truffle from the ground without disrupting the root system. This step is crucial in assuring that truffles will continue to grow in that location the next year.
There are 8 different varieties of truffle found in Italy, mainly in the central/northern regions of Umbria, Marche, Toscana and Piemonte. The harvest seasons vary depending on the variety, but tend to span the autumn and winter months.
The white truffle, which is only eaten fresh, is the most precious of the varieties and is famously local to the towns of Alba and Asti in Piemonte. There are truffle festivals in these areas that occur in the months of October and November.
Second only to the white truffle is the black truffle, a less precious and slightly less flavorful version than its counterpart, but still delicious. Black truffles can be cooked and are often found in sauces or jarred. The black truffle is harvested in late autumn and winter. In Italy pigs have been banned from black truffle hunting since 1985 because of the disruption they cause to the truffle’s ecosystem.
My last few posts were meant to highlight autumn in Italy as a foodie and wine enthusiast’s paradise. Whether you go for the wine, the olive oil or the truffles, a fall/winter trip to Italy should be a priority on your to-do list.