Truffle hunting season in northern Italy
Some of us are lucky enough to have the luxury of being able to travel at any time of year, and can pack up the car or take a short flight to the continent to experience Europe without the crowds. Driving in Italy is dramatic and beautiful during the autumn months, and allows you to enjoy spectacular cultural events and seasonal foods, such as wild mushrooms and truffles.
If you are passing through the northern region of Piedmont this autumn, then a visit to the town of Alba will surely not disappoint. Alba produces the biggest and best quality white truffles in Italy. Unlike the black truffle, of which there are several varieties that are harvested throughout the year, the white truffle only grows in Italy, to be harvested between late September and the end of January.
Italian truffle hunters are now busy sniffing out (or rather, their dogs are) this expensive and highly sought-after ingredient. There is no comparison between Italian varieties of truffle and those from other areas, making the white truffle the most expensive cooking ingredient in the world. Unlike their French counterparts, who still use pigs to do the digging, Italian truffle hunters rely on the noses of dogs instead. Dogs are naturally less fond of the smell of truffles, and therefore less likely to devour thousands of pounds worth of truffle before the hunter can intervene.
Truffle hunting tours are now fairly common and accessible to tourists, and you can follow the truffle hunter and his hunting companion through the woods as they excitedly try to uncover this valuable prize. The dog digs through the soft earth and uncovers the patch where the truffle is hiding, then using a special tool the truffle is carefully removed from the ground. This grubby-looking prize will then fetch a market price of around three thousand Euros per kilo.
A truffle hunting tour is a delightful and unusual experience, and can be arranged through local tourist information points and hotels, or by visiting the Tourism Board of Alba. Many of these tours will provide you with a chance to taste some local delicacies, or buy truffles from the truffle hunter at market price.
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Author: Paul Quigley
21 November 2014