One or twice a year, we are invited to a farmhouse nestled in the Tuscan hills to enjoy a traditional Tuscan lunch with a lovely Tuscan family.
The invitation comes however with a strict warning – the location must be kept top-secret!
The father of the family is a truffle-hunter. And not just any ol’ truffle-enthusiast.
This truffle-hunter has discovered some of the largest truffles to be found in recent times.
Successful truffle hunters keep their ‘hunting grounds’ top secrets, and their wives joke that they prize their truffle-seeking dogs more than them!
It is these truffle-rich grounds we can see rolling out before us from the dining-room windows that face out onto nothing but rolling green fields spiked with pine trees along their rim.
At these delicious lunches we are invited to, the menu is usually hand-made pasta expertly prepared with eggs from the hens that roam in the courtyard. Vegetables are collected from the extensive vegetable garden, the olive oil comes from their olive grove, and the wine poured from unlabled bottles filled with home-made wine from the small vineyard. At the end of the meal, home-made desserts are served with home-made Vin Santo dessert wine bought out from the cellar and dusted off for the occasion.
In Italian, good food is described in terms of quality taste-descibers like ‘molto buono’ (very good) or ‘delizioso’ (delicious). Unless it is actually pretty to look at, Italians would not say that a dish is ‘beautiful’ – bello.
The truffle however is one prized food in Tuscany that would never be described as ‘bello’.
Unsightly as they are tasty, truffles are sniffed out of the ground by highly-trained, prized truffle-hunting dogs. These dogs are selected at birth and taught to love the earthy truffle taste by having truffle-flavoured milk and treats as pups. Truffles are given as rewards for fun doggy games.
Truffle-hunting dogs are relatively new in terms of the Tuscan truffle-hunting tradition.
Pigs were the traditional truffle seekers, and are still used to this day in some parts of Spain and New Zealand. The Italians (and French for that matter) found the pigs to be too hard to train to stop eating them once the truffles were found and turned to dogs! The fact that the dogs make much more friendly companions mustn’t have helped the case for the pigs either.
There are various types of truffles to be found – black, white, summer and bagnoli to name a few. Truffle hunting dogs expertly seek them out under the oak, poplar, cherry, willow and lime trees under which they can be found.
They have an intense flavour that means that they can be used sparingly in recipes – thankfully, being that they are quite difficult to find and costly to buy!
Truffle-flavoured oils and creams can be found in stores, and even real truffles in gourmet specialty stores.
In Florence, to try Panini Tartufati (‘Truffled’ sandwiches), head to Leopoldo Procacci on Florence’s best shopping street, Via Tornabuoni, 64/r 50123 (Tel +39 055211656, email: firstname.lastname@example.org). Owned by famed wine house Antinori, this is a high-end foodies heaven.
There are also wonderful local dinners held in village towns around Tuscany that celebrate the prized truffle, an event known as a ‘sagra’.
If you can get your hands on one of these ugly treats, there are a few simple truffle recipes to truly bring out the flavour.
The simplest dish is arguably eggs with truffles. Since Italians eat sweet pastries for breakfast, eggs are considered a simple main meal to be served perhaps with a dash of home-made tomato sauce and a grating of cheese on top, or whenever possible, shaved truffles. Cook the eggs as you wish – lightly fried, scrambled or poached, then simply grate the truffles atop and serve with freshly-ground pepper and salt.
To make a delicious and easy truffle pasta, take fresh pasta like fettucini, cook it in boiling salted water until perfectly al-dente. In a non-stick pan, melt some butter, throw in the pasta and shave fresh truffles over the top. A dash of salt and pepper, coat the pasta well with the sauce and serve. Simple and delicious!
For true opulence, cook a beef steak as you like it, and shave on some truffles.
To learn about food and have fun learning discovering tasty ways to use seasonal Italian ingredients to make delicious, typical dishes before indulging in a delicious meal made by you, we have hands-on cooking classes in Florence and Tuscany.
If you would like to immerse yourself in the Tuscan culture, we have a small-group Best of Tuscany tour visiting Siena, San Gimignano and Monteriggioni too, as well as stopping for lunch and wine tasting at an award-winning wine estate. See the highlights of Tuscany in one spectacular day tour from Florence – Best of Tuscany small-group tour.
Join us to have fun on an exhilarating bike ride from Florence to the Tuscan countryside, whizzing up and down the rolling Tuscan hills that form the stunning Tuscany countryside as you tour to a great Tuscan villa wine estate to visit their wine cellar for a Tuscan wine tasting, and dine at an award-winning Tuscan restaurant. During the warmer months, you may want to add a splash of extra fun to your Tuscany bike tour with our unique Tuscany Bike Ride with a Villa Swim. Should you wish to skip the Tuscan bike riding altogether and head straight pool-side, we have our Wine Tour and Villa Swim with lunch or simply enjoy a Villa Swim and Lunch in Tuscany.
Visit a Tuscan villa on the Taste of Tuscany at the Villa wine tour. Explore historic wine estates before undertaking a wine tasting. Tread through the terrain, enjoying spectacular views of the Tuscan countryside up-close and personal.
Stroll through the Tuscan countryside, join us for a Perfect Morning in Tuscany small-group walking tour. Leaving from Florence’s city centre and heading to the surrounding countryside, this small-group walking tour includes, well, walking in Tuscany, as well as lunch with wine at a stunning Renaissance Villa Estate, accompanied by an expert tour guide.
If you would like to have a private guide accompanying you, we have private tours that cater to your every desire. From Florence (and Tuscany) to Rome, Venice to the Cinque Terre and beyond, we are at your beck and call.
To explore other areas of Italy, can check out our Artviva Walking Tours website to read more about the tours we have to offer in Florence, Rome, Venice, Cinque Terre, Umbria, Naples, Pompeii and more.