Truffles are the apex of Italy’s gastronomy and autumn is the peak time for truffle hunting and cooking. The white truffle is particularly prized and one of the most expensive foods in the world.
The Piedmont (Piemonte) region is renowned for the most prized of truffles the tartufo bianco (white truffle). The annual International Alba White Truffle Fair is underway and showcases haute cuisine and Italian excellence.
The 91st edition of the fair runs until 5th December and is the place to appreciate all things truffle related. Within the Truffle Market is the Alba Truffle Show, a space dedicated to cooking shows, the Truffle Sensory Analysis, events and debates. The Wine Tasting Experience, twins the territories of food and wine excellence with “taste weddings” among the hills of Langhe, Monferrato and Roero.
There is also Alba Truffle Kids, a pavilion dedicated to children and their families.
National Truffle Fair in Le Marche
While Piedmont lays claim to white truffle capital, it is not the only Italian region to celebrate all things truffle.
The Le Marche town of Acqualagna has truffles throughout the year (black and white), but autumn is peak season. While Piemonte may be more famous, it is from Acqualagna that two-thirds of the nation’s production of white truffle (about 600 quintals) comes.
Starting today (24th October) and running until November 14th 2021 is the 56th edition of the National Truffle Fair. Acqualagna hosts two more fairs: the first in February dedicated to the fine black truffle and the second in August when the Regional Black Summer Truffle Fair is held. During the events, harvesters and dealers who work in all the world markets, become the reference points for visitors wishing to see, savour and buy the truffle.
Where else in Italy can you find truffles?
Whilst the finest white truffles are said to come from Alba, and Le Marche has its own tartufo biancho, different varieties can be found across other northern and central regions of Italy.
Piedmont – white truffles, Nero Pregiato and Scorzone as well as the more common Brumale variety
Le Marche – white truffles and Nero Pregiato varieties found in the areas near Acqualagna and Pergola
Tuscany – white truffle, Nero Pregiato and Scorzone found across the region
Umbria – different varieties found near centers of Orvieto, Perugia, and Norcia
Emilia-Romagna – several varieties found in the areas near Parma and Piacenza
Abruzzo and Molise – produce up to 60% of Italian truffles and most of the varieties are here
What exactly is a truffle?
Italians call truffles ‘tartufi’. It comes from the Latin word ‘tuber’, which means a lump. They are like subterranean mushrooms, growing beneath the surface close to tree roots. Usually, they are found at a depth of around 5 to 30 centimeters.
The best climate for truffles is a humid and colder. They grow beneath various tree species, such as willow, poplar, hazelnut and oak. They can be extremely expensive with prices ranging from €2,000 to €5,000 per kilo.
Truffles are still harvested using traditional methods. They cannot be farmed or cultivated. Truffle hunters use dogs to sniff out the truffles and then they carefully remove them from the ground.
Types of truffle
There are several types of truffle ranging from white to black.
Tuber Magnatum Pico or white truffles are also known as Trifola d’Alba Madonna (“Truffle of the White Madonna” in Italian). They have an irregular shape, are smooth, and range from white to ochre in color. Their aroma is earthy. The flavour may include notes of garlic, nuts or honey.
A more common white truffle is the Tartufo Bianchetto or Marzuolo. It is harvested between February and April and has smooth skin and a garlicky taste and aroma.
Nero Pregiato are more common and remain fresher for longer than white truffles. Available from November to March, they have a stronger flavour than the white. They have been described as having notes of chocolate, earth or dried fruit. This is the truffle you are most likely to come across outside Italy.
The black summer truffle – the Scorzone – which can be found from May to October. It has a bumpy bark like exterior with a light brown flesh. This smells like its cousin the mushroom.
Winter black truffles are sometimes passed off as the nero pregiato variety. Found from January to March, the skin is less bumpy. The flesh is grey or brown with whiteish veins.
Tartufo di Bagnoli is in a league of its own when it comes to taste. Bitter and pungent, it has a smooth brown exterior and yellowish brown flesh.
Simple truffle recipes
With the price of truffles so high, they are used sparingly in dishes. The mild flavour of white truffles can be destroyed by over-cooking, so they are often shaved into fine slices and scattered over pasta.
A great, and very simple way to enjoy them is on a crostini or with shavings over pasta. Oil infused with truffles is a great way to get the taste at a fraction of the cost. A typical recipe from Acqualagna is crostini with white truffle. Quick and easy to prepare, it allows the truffle to come into its own while being family-friendly.
Crostini with white truffle
50 gr. white truffle – shavings
1 cup of beef stock
50 gr. of butter – melted
30 gr. parmesan cheese – grated
slices of toasted bread
- Add the melted butter and most of the truffle to the stock, and cook for a few minutes over moderate heat.
- With the heat turned off add the grated parmesan cheese.
- Pour the mixture onto the toasted bread.
- Sprinkle with slivers of white truffle.
Risotto al Tartufo Nero
Black truffles are more robust and can take the heat. Black truffle risotto – Risotto al Tartufo Nero- is another simple recipe option. As well as the truffle it’s important to use a good risotto rice. Choose either vialone nano or a quality carnaroli rice alongside an excellent fresh black truffle.
- 1 small black truffle – shaved
- 250g vialone nano rice
- 1/2 small white onion
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 40g butter
- 2 tablespoons of grated Parmesan cheese
- 800 ml vegetable stock
- half a glass dry white wine
- Finely chop the onion. Heat the oil in a pan suitable for cooking risottos and fry the onion. Add the rice and toast until the grains become translucent.
- Deglaze with the white wine. Once the alcohol has evaporated, start adding the broth to cover the rice. Stir the risotto very often, adding the broth which will evaporate, until cooked with a creamy consistency.
- When the rice is cooked, turn off the heat and stir in small pieces of cold and the grated Parmesan. Add half the grated truffle and mix.
- Serve the risotto, decorating with the rest of the truffle flakes.