Bryan and I partook in an incredible activity while we were in the Italian wine/olive oil countryside of Umbria: a truffle hunt! We were set up with an appointment to meet Severio Bianconi (see photo below, on the right), owner of Tartufo Bianconi, a small company selling black and white whole truffles and truffle products (think pate, polenta, reduced balsamic truffle creme, raw acacia truffle honey, etc.) to local chefs and restaurants. So we drove to Citerna, a tiny medieval town with 200 full-time residents and met JeanPierre (dressed in camo below), an official truffler hunter and his prized truffle hound, Asia.
From left: JeanPierre, Asia, the owner of truffle reserve, his dog Sandy, & Severio Bianconi.
For over an hour, we let the dogs loose and they immediately caught scent of truffle after truffle. They would start to dig furiously and we've have to catch up with them before the dug too far and ate, yes ATE, the truffle. These dogs are incredible smart, but given the chance, they're even smarter: they're eating that prized funghi. The hunters taught Bryan and I how to dig out the truffles and after that, we became the hunters. We followed the dogs and found truffle after truffle growing under the oak and hazelnuts trees. We dug each one out, hiking through the preserve. At one point I make the mistake of looking too closely into the piles of leaves underfoot and realized that they were absolutely teeming with spiders. Hundreds of them. Big ones, too. I am no friend of spiders, big or small, and it took a lot for me not to run screaming from the preserve. But I kept my cool and focused on the once-in-a-lifetime task at hand: unearthing some of Italy's best truffles. It was incredible.
And black truffles! What beauties...If you can believe it, the afternoon got even better as we took our bounty back to Severio's home and met with his wife Gabriella, who took us through a five-course truffle cooking class. We prepared truffle polenta with cream sauce, truffle souffle with mini crostinis, homemade pasta with truffles, cheese drizzled with truffle honey, chicken topped with reduced balsamic truffle creme, truffle mashed potatoes (a light potato flake mixture) and finally, a farmhouse cake (sans truffles). We ate dinner with the Bianconi family, practicing our Italian along the way while they practiced their English. It was amazing and true to European form, we relaxed at the dinner table, sipping wine and eating for over three hours. It was a magical day. Truly a culinary dream come true.
Here's the prep. Check out our work:
Shaving black truffles into olive oil & garlic. I never wanted to stop.
Truffle polenta, before being baked.
Homemade pasta, soon to be topped with my shaved black truffles.
Chicken cutlets filled with cheese and truffle pate, rolled and boiled.
And finally, our meal. So incredible. Severio opened some of his family's Greccheto wine (white table wine served anytime throughout the day, similar to Sauvignon Blanc), a Chianti and a sweet dessert wine he made himself, Vin Santo. He opened the red wine to demonstrate his strict rule that you should absolutely NEVER drink red wine with truffle dishes. In his opinion, the tannins overpower the truffles. After trying it, we had to agree.
Stuffed chicken with truffle potatoes & balsamic truffle creme drizzle.
The only non-truffle dish: warm farmhouse cake with crunchy sugar crystals.
Overall it was a day we'll never forget. Gabriella even gave us a book with some of her recipes in it. A huge thanks to the truffle hunters and the Bianconi family for their hospitality, expertise and culinary prowess.