Rossini called them the "Mozart of funghi". Italians have dubbed them the "diamond of the kitchen". Gastronomes describe them with words such as pungent, earthy, musky, savory, odiferous, intoxicating, heavenly and sinful. For centuries they have been considered addictive aphrodisiacs. They grow wild, they are difficult to find and they can cost up to $3,000 a pound. They are truffles, the Mediterranean equivalent of fine caviar, and more of them are unearthed in Umbria than anywhere else in Italy.
To be in Umbria in October and November during the height of the truffle harvest is to experience food, festivity and sport in enchanting doses. There are nearly 10,000 registered truffle hunters in the province and the rivalry between them is passionate. Truffles grow four to eight inches underground attached to the roots of certain trees including oak, poplar and chestnut. Hunters use dogs and sometimes pigs to sniff them out. It is like panning for gold.
Getting involved in the truffle harvest can range from taking part in an actual truffle hunt with an expert and his dogs, to visiting a full-up festival where truffles of every variety are featured along with spreads of wonderfully prepared local food, to enjoying the delicacy on your own over a quiet meal at home. Truffles are celebrated not only in Umbria but also in Piedmont at Alba, in Le Marche at Acqualagna and in Tuscany at San Miniato. Umbrian truffle centers during the months of October and November include Norcia, Città di Castello, Apecchio and Gubbio, to mention but four. To find a comprehensive overview of truffle-related tours and events be sure to get your hands on The Italian Truffle Guide, prepared and edited by the Touring Club of Italy touringclubofitaly.com.
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