Last Updated on October 30, 2022 by Jim Ferri
Truffle hunting in Italy can be a fun experience for all. Just be prepared for the weather…
Estimated reading time: 7 minutes
By Jim Ferri
Truffles are often said to be the “diamonds of the kitchen” because of the exquisite earthy taste they bring to food. Finding diamonds, however, may be easier.
There are two types of truffles, black and white, the latter having sold for as much as $3,600 a pound. At a charity auction in 2010 a Macau billionaire paid $330,000 for about 2.8 pounds of them. They are the most expensive food in the world.
I’d always wanted to go on a truffle hunt, especially in Italy. While training about Europe for two months I decided I’d finally do it.
Since I was going to visit to Bologna, one of the top places to visit in Italy, I thought what better place to learn about truffles then in the food mecca of Italy.
Truffle Hunting in Italy with Bluone Cooking Tours
I learned of Bluone Cooking Tours, a small family-run company in Bologna, through an article in The New York Times. After contacting them I found that in addition to cooking tours they also hosted truffle hunting in Italy tours. In addition, their tours include a cooking demonstration and lunch in a farm home.
I knew I was in heaven as I headed straight for Italy’s foodie mecca, Bologna.
Marcello Bluone asked that I meet his wife Raffaella and two Australian tourists at a hotel near Bologna’s Piazza Maggiore a bit before eight o’clock the morning of our truffle hunt. When I got there the weather had turned rainy, although it hadn’t dampen our spirits. In Raffaella’s car we set out for the hills outside the city.
En route Raffaella stopped at a farmer’s supply store where we purchased some inexpensive rain jackets, pants and boots. We were also joined there by Raffaella’s daughter Francesca. We were soon off to meet Silvano Montefiore. Silvano was our hunter but it was his dog, Spino, who would be doing all the hard work.
Hello Spino, Our Truffle Hunter
Spino was a Lagotto, a small wiry dog that looks somewhat like a poodle. Although it is the official truffle hound, in Italy many dogs are taught to be truffle hunters.
After driving through the fog and rain on winding roads through the hills, we arrived where Spino was to hunt. Once out of his cage in the back of Silvano’s car he was a bundle of energy.
We walked down the road a little bit and turned onto a dirt and gravel road. We soon found that it ran down into the woods and then out to a meadow. Once unleashed Spiro immediately began running through the woods. As the rain continued and fog drifted in, he continued his frenetic search, bounding all over the hillside.
Into the Woods on Our Truffle Hunting in Italy Foray
We followed Silvano into the muddy woods, he carrying his vanghetto, a cross between a little hoe and spear that’s used for digging up the little tuber-like tartufi. Every once in a while going down a little slope we’d have to grab a small branch or sapling to prevent slipping on the muddy ground. We walked on, all of us with our cameras at the ready awaiting the moment when Spino would unearth a truffle.
Since they grow entirely underground with no shoots or leaves hinting at their presence, they’re very hard to find except by a trained dog or pig. In Italy, however, hunting pigs are rarely used any longer since they attempt to eat the truffle as soon as it’s found.
I watched in amazement as Spino continued running about frenetically with his nose to the ground, flitting in and out of the undergrowth, so fast at times he was almost a blur with his brown fur blending with the muddy earth.
After about a half-hour he started digging furiously near a tangle of vines and small trees and pulled a mud-covered truffle from the soil. He exchanged it with Silvano for a treat as we all gathered around to view it. It was a black truffle, quite irregular in shape and about two inches in length. We had finally hit pay-dirt on our truffle hunting in Italy tour!
It was Spino’s only find of the day, which in hindsight was probably fortunate since we were all a bit wet and we needed to get on to the Gianna’s farmhouse for the cooking demonstration and lunch.
We arrived at the farmhouse quite a bit late because a traffic accident forced us to make a lengthy detour. When we arrived Gianna was rolling out dough on a large piece of plywood with a very large rolling pin.
We all found it incredible how thin she had rolled the dough out, so thin that you see the grain of the wood through the pasta. This being Italy, you could tell this woman was as serious about her food as Silvano was about his truffle hunting.
In addition to the cooking demonstrations at the farm, Gianna and her family also make a special olive oil that has a unique taste because the trees grow in a cooler climate. They also make their own wine, which we later found was quite good.
The three of us watched as Gianna made her little raviolis, which we subsequently had for lunch along with a frittata and a bruschetta with fresh truffles. She had grated her tartufi and mixed it with salt and pepper and her special olive oil.
It was delicious and also a fitting way to end our wet day of truffle hunting in Italy.
We arrived back in Bologna in late afternoon but for me that wasn’t to be the end of it.
Off To the Food Markets
The next morning I joined Raffaella again as she took me along with another couple on a tour of Bologna’s old food markets. That was a fascinating tour, as well, as we went from store to store, market stall to market stall, Raffaella explaining the importance of all the different pasta, vegetables, meats and fish to the Bolognese palette.
Raffaella stopped and shopped as we walked along and she asked me to join the three of them for a home-cooked Bolognese meal that afternoon. It was so deliciously tempting, but I couldn’t join them because there were other people I needed to meet since I was leaving the next morning.
What an opportunity to have to miss, I thought.
If You Go:
Wine & Cooking Tours in Italy
Via Parigi, 11
40121 Bologna, Italy
Tel: (+39) 051 263546