Never mind the Alba truffles of Piedmont, the Tuscans know that the white truffle found around Pisa and Siena tastes just as good – and, they say, it’s better value, too.
Away from the noise of Piedmont, the autumn truffle-hunting season in Tuscany is said to be a quieter, more authentic affair and October is the month to visit to find out all about the tartufo bianco.
The trifolau, truffle hunters, keep their best locations secret and often hunt at night with their dogs – which are a little less likely than the traditional pig to wolf down the precious booty.
To Tuscany recommends The Association of Truffle Hunters of Siena for an authentic harvest experience. These trifolau are so keen to share their art that it’s sometimes possible to join them for free – though it helps to speak a little Italian or to hire a translator.
The most important truffle festival in Tuscany is held at San Miniato, in the heart of white truffle territory, between Pisa and Florence, on the final three weekends of November. The lesser-known San Giovanni d’Asso, south-east of Siena, is held on the second and third weekends of November. It’s possible to make a day of it, with a ride on the Nature Train, a steam locomotive that puffs its way from Siena or Grosseto to this truffle fair, with a truffle-laced lunch served along the way. Serious truffle fans can find out more about the town’s museum, Museo Tartufo.
To Tuscany has more than 725 high-quality villas across the region to choose from, for truffle fans heading to the area. To be close to San Miniato, Colle di Sotto is a good choice, a two-bedroom, two-bathroom villa, sleeping up to six, located on top of a hill overlooking the vineyards. A week at Colle di Sotto costs £1,138 on festival dates, a 10% discount on the usual price. For San Giovanni d’Asso, Casa Gisella at Podere Ampella is a two-bedroom, two-bathroom villa, sleeping up to six, in a traditional stone hamlet just outside the town. A week here costs £474 during the festival. Prices are the total for the villa, accommodation only.
For hunts with The Association of Truffle Hunters of Siena, call 00 39 (0 577803213.
WILD MUSHROOM RISOTTO WITH WHITE TRUFFLE
(Adapted from Saveur magazine)
1⁄2 oz. dried cèpes (porcini mushrooms)
½ litre Chicken Stock
1-1 1⁄2 tbsp. unsalted butter
2 large shallots, peeled and chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and minced
2 fresh sage leaves, chopped, or 1⁄4 tsp. dried
190 gm arborio rice
120 ml dry red wine
225 gm fresh wild mushrooms (e.g., shiitakes, chanterelles, morels, or cèpes), sliced
50 gm grated parmigiano-reggiano
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
50 gm fresh white truffles, or more
Soak dried mushrooms in 240ml very hot water for 30 minutes.
Remove mushrooms and reserve liquid.
Rinse mushrooms gently and be sure to remove all the soil, drain well, chop coarsely, and set aside.
Strain liquid through a fine sieve or coffee filter and set aside.
In a saucepan, bring stock to a boil over high heat, then lower to maintain a simmer until ready to use.
Soften butter in a large saucepan over moderate heat.
Add shallots, garlic, and sage, and cook, stirring occasionally, until shallots are translucent.
Add rice and cook, stirring constantly, until lightly toasted and coated with butter, about 5 minutes.
Add wine and cook until absorbed, stirring constantly, about 3 minutes.
Stir in all the mushrooms, mushroom liquid, and 120 chicken stock.
Maintaining a simmer, cook, stirring frequently, until liquid is almost absorbed, 3–5 minutes.
Continue adding stock, stirring frequently, until rice is tender but firm to the bite and mixture is creamy but not gloopy for around 20 minutes.
Remove risotto from heat, stir in the parmigiano, season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve immediately.
Shave white truffles directly onto risotto at the table.