In the rustic hinterland of San Miniato in Tuscany, oak trees, willows and hazels cultivate among their roots the finest mushroom that can be found: The White Truffle of San Miniato. In latin known as Tuber Magnatum Pico, this much-coveted “diamond of the kitchen” is one of the most expensive truffles in the world. A chilly November morning we went on the hunt together with local trufflers in search of this funky fungi.
All dressed in camouflage or dark green colours, these hunters don’t come armed with a rifle or a gun, but a zappino, a narrow spade and treats for the dogs. We haven’t walked far along the little creek among slender trees and shrubbery before one of the dogs starts rustling in the dirt. The owner comes to its aid, to encourage the dog as well as to grab the truffle before it accidentally gets crushed or eaten.
Even though trained dogs are preferred as truffle hunters, as opposed to pigs who just eat the truffle if they get away with it, even eager dogs can accidentally eat a truffle, or damage it in their frantic search. Hence the dog treats.
We’re in luck: among the rubble dug up by the dog, a small inconspicuous lumb is quickly snatched by the truffle hunter and presented to us with great pride. We’re grateful to be among experienced truffle hunters, because we would never have noticed this small, dirt-coloured morsel on our own. But as its passed around the group to be admired, no-one have doubts that this is the real thing: the smell is evident.
The “smell of garlic or ramson combined with a musky mushroom aroma”, is how I would best describe it. A “hint of old cheese and fart” are the words that come to my husband’s mind. And just for the record: his farts don’t smell like truffles! No, truffles are not for everyone, but that’s all right because then there’s more for the rest of us.
We have both tried truffle, albeit a black one, before and nothing compares to the smell and taste of this white truffle. It’s much more intense and it comes as no surprise that it’s the most expensive in the world (up to 2.500€ per pound). As opposed to the black truffle, the white can’t be cultivated and so it’s with good reason that San Miniato takes very good care of it’s unique environment.
National White Truffle of San Miniato Festival
The Truffle Hunt is organized as part of the National White Truffle of San Miniato Festival, which takes place every year in November. Here, everything truffle can be sampled, bought and cooked. Not only the precious lumps, that are safeguarded behind glass cheese bells and release their musky odor when the glass bell is lifted and the morsels are presented.
You can also buy cheese with truffle, truffle salami, butter with truffle, truffle olive oil, paté with truffle, truffle-flavoured salt, honey with truffle and even dried pasta with truffle. The only thing we didn’t find was ice cream with truffle, but that was probably because we didn’t look hard enough!
And if you don’t want (just) to buy it but want to eat it too, you also have ample choice. Every restaurant offer menus starring truffles and there are lots of food stands offering truffle-infused treats.
The Truffle Festival is not only a celebration of the white truffle but of Slow Food as well. On the market you can find all the other great products of the land: charcuterie, cheese, olive oil and wine. One tent is reserved for the vignerons, the winemakers of San Miniato and you can arm yourself with a wine glass and sample the different reds of the region. The scent of roasted chestnuts in the air completes the merry assembly.
It’s always a delight to be around passionate people, and in San Miniato they are proud and passionate about their food in general and truffle in particular. They gladly share their love for the products of the land and invite everyone to join in the celebration. Whether you speak Italian, French or German – love for and appreciation of food is universal and can bring everyone together.
To discover more about the gastronomical pleasures of this abundant region, check out our wine tour guides to Montalcino, Montepulciano or Chianti. Or learn to Cook like an Italian with Mauro, the most good-humoured chef you’ll ever have the chance to meet.
- San Miniato Tourism website
- San Miniato on VisitTuscany.com
- San Miniato on DiscoverTuscany.com
- Truffles on Wikipedia