Searching for ‘white diamonds’

Truffle hunting tips and festivals

Emily Matras
October 21, 2010

In Italy, autumn marks the arrival of the pungent, earthy aroma of the world's most sought-after gastronomic delight: white truffles. Here's a round-up of Italy's best white truffle festivals, and tips for those adventurous souls who want to sniff out their own ‘white diamonds.'

 

 

ITALY'S TOP TRUFFLE FESTIVALS:

 

INTERNATIONAL WHITE TRUFFLE FAIR IN ALBA

It's the biggie. Now in its 80th year, Alba's big truffle fair features a truffle market (of course), a Worldwide Truffle Auction, and thousands of truffle fans fainting over the aroma. If the scent proves too much, pop over to Alba's wine festival, art show, hot-air-balloon fair or donkey race, all happening concurrently with the fair. Be aware that not all truffles sold at the fair originate from Alba: they are sold as such to garner a higher price. When: October 9 to November 14, Saturdays and Sundays, from 9am to 8pm, tel. 0173/361051.

 

SAN MINIATO NATIONAL WHITE TRUFFLE MARKET

Only a half-hour car ride from Florence, this festival makes a perfect day trip. The area is responsible for nearly one-fourth of Italy's truffle production. Aside from truffle buying and selling under the main tent, festivities include theatrical productions and a performance by the marching band. Smaller tents line the piazzas, selling any number of truffle-infused wares.  When: November 13 to November 28, Saturdays and Sundays, tel. 0571/1418739.

 

NATIONAL WHITE TRUFFLE FAIR IN ACQUALAGNA

Although four different kinds of truffles are found in the area, Acqualagna is famous for its white truffle fair. This town, in the Marche region, produces nearly two-thirds of the national truffle bounty. When: October 31 and November 1, plus Saturdays and Sundays through November 14, 10am to 7pm, tel. 0721/796741.

 

WHITE TRUFFLE FESTIVAL OF SAN GIOVANNI D'ASSO

The festival in this small, medieval town just south of Siena is not quite as well known as the other fairs mentioned and thus may be less touristy. The town is also home to a truffle museum, the Museo del Tartufo, which is the first in Italy. When: Second and third weekends of November, tel. 0577/803101.

 

VOLTERRAGUSTO

At the gourmet festival in the Tuscan town of Volterra (see TF 128 for a travel itinerary), you can indulge in not only truffles, but also oil, wine, cheese and chocolate. Local products are on sale in several areas of the town's historic center. When: October 23, 24, 30, 31, and November 1, tel. 0588/86099.

 

TRUFFLE HUNTING TIPS:

 

1. Go soon. The white truffle season, which began in September, continues through the beginning of January, but prime picking time is usually from mid-October through November.

 

2. Go north to hunt. The Piedmont region in northern Italy, and, most famously, the surrounding countryside of the city of Alba, are the source of many white truffles. For hunting a little closer to home, try the Tuscan region of Crete Senesi, just south of Siena.

 

3. Go with a guide. Truffle hunting is a lucrative business (a truffle sold for $150,000 at last year's White Truffle Festival in Alba), so truffle hunters are quite secretive about their favorite truffle-finding spots. Thus, going with a guide is your best bet: for a fee you'll gain access to a reliable truffle-yielding location and a trained dog (or, now less common, a pig) to sniff out the scent. Beware, though, of shady tours that plant a truffle along the route to guarantee a good find.

 

4. Have any truffles that you find examined by an expert. A poisonous mushroom in its button stage is easily mistaken for a truffle.

 

5. Enjoy your findings immediately. White truffles lose their fragrance and flavor within two to three days of harvest. For the maximum truffle-flavor punch, keep the meal simple and other flavors mild. Try shaving the truffle over fried eggs or simply dressed pasta.

 

 

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