The silence of the foggy October night is broken only by the occasional crunch of branches under the hunter’s feet. The steps of the faithful four-legged friend on the wet autumn foliage are almost inaudible. Like many centuries ago, from October to December, experts and simply great lovers of culinary delights go out in search of the rarest mushroom – the truffle.
In Piedmont, neither hunted nor hunted in the company of pigs. Clever, but gluttonous sow would be difficult to drag away from the precious prey found. Truffle hunters are assisted by specially trained dogs. Holders of higher education degrees hardly ever thought that some tailed creatures can also have prestigious documents. The university for dogs wishing to specialize in truffle hunting has been located near Alba, in the town of Roddy, since 1880. There are no boards and chalk, but only forests, fields and the most talented teacher in the world, the “doggy” professor Monchiero. In a few days, he is able to understand whether something worthwhile will come out of your pet. But if the university is more entertainment for visiting foreigners, then serious training work is carried out by real hunters from an early canine age and for many years to come.
The most talented pets are trained in this craft from two to three months of age. When the puppies are born, they are given pieces of truffle for testing or, in the off-season, bread dipped in truffle olive oil. Those who joyfully react to smell and taste, they begin to prepare for forestry work. Mongrels and mestizo are the most talented, girls have a more delicate sense of smell. If you bring your Barbos to courses in Italy, you will hardly be able to get a decent result in a short time.
Then you yourself can take part in the exciting process of hunting for such a valuable product, accompanied by a professional experienced hunter (“trifulau” in the Piedmontese dialect) and his experienced dog. There will certainly be more sense from a walk like this. The outcome of the hunt also depends on your luck.
Where did it all come from
In the days of Ancient Greece and Rome, the white truffle was considered an aphrodisiac. According to the mythical version, truffles were born in those places where the lightning of the gods struck. And if during a thunderstorm it was always unsafe to be under the trees, then you could try to look for mushrooms after atmospheric phenomena. In the Langhe, Roero and Monferrato areas, recently declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site, serious truffle hunting has always taken place at night. The hunter left the house, dressed in a black cloak with a hood, took with him a staff (“barot”), a flashlight or a candle. When the dog smelled prey, it returned to the hunter, gave a sign and ran back to the possible prey. She lay down in the place where, in her opinion, the truffle should have been, so that competitors would not get anything. The hunter approached her, covered himself and her cloak. And only then did he light the light source and carefully dig out the prey, and then bury the hole, trying not to damage the spores.
Maybe, had the world not one day talked about the Piedmont truffle publicly, it most likely would not have become so prestigious and expensive. It all happened thanks to the brilliant idea of a resident of the town of La Morra. In 1930, Giacomo Morra opened an enterprise with his own name in Alba, today considered the gastronomic capital of Italy and the capital of the Langhe wine-growing area. The company’s store is still located in the city center. He decided to turn the truffle into a real brand. With the support of powerful friends, Giacomo organized the first truffle exhibition. He began to send the most beautiful and expensive copies to celebrities such as Marilyn Monroe, Winston Churchill, Alfred Hitchcock and others. I liked the offer! The holiday has become so popular that already in July-August, places in hotels disappear before our eyes. Businessmen, actors, politicians, royalty begin to plan their autumn travels. Every year the exhibition has a new official. They already had such characters as Claudia Cardinale, English Prince Charles, Sophia Loren and many other stars. Gerard Depardieu, who is in love with Italy, spends at least a week in Piedmont. His voluminous figure can be easily seen at many autumn events. For his Parisian restaurant Gerard buys a batch of the finest truffles.
The symbol of the truffle area is the medieval castle of Grinzane Cavour, which houses the office of the holders of the order of truffles and wines of the city of Alba. The secret brotherhood was born on February 22, 1967. The organization was created to promote the culture of food and wine in the Langhe region of Piedmont. All members of this organization take an oath of allegiance to the territory, committing themselves to promoting both truffles and excellent local wines. Instead of a sword for initiation, an old vine is used. New members of the order, before signing the certificate of membership, are given a sniff of a white truffle and a glass of barolo is offered. Little known fact: one of the founders of this organization is the star of the Piedmont winemaking Angelo Gaia. The organization was created in the image and likeness of the Masonic lodge. It includes many representatives of influential Italian families.
It is here, within the walls of one of the most beautiful architectural monuments of Piedmont, that an international truffle auction is held in mid-November. 2013 became a record year, when representatives of the Hong Kong elite won all the auctions, paying a total of 234,200 euros for the lots. The Chinese writer, who wished to remain anonymous, paid as much as 90 thousand euros for a handsome mushroom weighing 950 grams. The money from the auction always goes exclusively to charity.
White or black
The white truffle from Alba has been considered one of the finest delicacies in Piedmontese cuisine for centuries. It belongs to the Tuber Magnatum Pico subspecies, the most fragrant of all that exists in nature. The mushroom grows underground in symbiosis with the roots of certain plants, such as, for example, oak, poplar, hazelnuts, willow. It connects to the main root of the tree by thin and fragile capillaries. The plant and the truffle exchange useful minerals with each other. The fungus is not by nature a parasite. Propagated by spores that remain in the ground until the next season. It begins to grow and increase in size from May. The aroma exudes when it ripens to readiness, usually not earlier than October.
Black truffles also grow in Piedmont – with a more earthy aroma and a rough surface. Truffles are found at a depth of 15–20 cm to a meter. Only the most experienced dogs are able to sense them at great depths. By the shape of a truffle, one can judge the soil in which it grew. If its surface is smooth, then the soil was soft, sandy, clayey. The more bumpy specimens got denser layers, they had to extract space for themselves. Color and aroma, depending on the mother plant, can also vary.
Black truffles can be heat treated. That is why it is often added to cheeses. It is found in nature much more often than its white counterpart, which cannot be grown artificially. And it costs 10 times cheaper. Whereas the white king is estimated, depending on the season, at 3 and a half – 4 thousand euros per kilogram. And at a charitable international auction, its cost goes off scale for 200-300 thousand. Some specimens reach 1 kilogram.
Black truffle is significantly cheaper than its white counterpart
White truffle from Alba has a unique aroma with garlic. It can be consumed by rinsing under running water, removing the dirt with a brush and blotting with a paper towel. The white truffle is stored in the refrigerator for a maximum of two weeks in a paper towel, which must be changed once a day. Do not put it in rice, which draws out moisture and dries out the truffle. Unless you decide to make a fragrant risotto.
Nowadays anyone can enjoy the gifts of the forest. Black truffles are sought from May to December, white ones from October to December.
The perfect combination
The Piedmontese cuisine gained immense fame and popularity thanks to aristocratic families and the royal dynasty of Savoy. Autumn European receptions were not complete without truffles. That is why the choice of dishes to which the truffle is added and the wines with which such dishes are combined must be the most exquisite.
If you don’t really feel like looking for a delicacy in the forest, you can simply come to the famous exhibition in the gastronomic capital of Italy Alba. Of course, the most ideal way to enjoy a unique product is to visit restaurants ranging from simple family establishments to Michelin stars. Truffles are grated into very simple dishes such as scrambled eggs, possibly with fonduta sauce, and tayarin egg noodles. The point is that the taste and aroma of the dish should not overshadow the aroma of the truffle.
The perfect combination is wines based on Nebbiolo grapes. If your budget allows you to choose a barolo or barbaresco in the wine list, preferably older, then the state of wine and gastronomic nirvana is guaranteed. In their aroma, you will also feel autumn, forest, mushroom walk.
Tayarin noodles or how to get married in Piedmont
What dish should you definitely try in restaurants? These are the famous Piedmont egg tayarin noodles with meat stew or butter and truffle. Old men in Piedmont say that it was difficult for girls who could not cook tayarin noodles to get married.
Mom Methilde Sandri, wife and mother of a winemaker from Alba, shared a family recipe for her favorite pasta. Perhaps there will be a bride for her only son who has decided to move to the village, learn Italian recipes and continue family traditions. How do you know? Nothing is impossible!
1 kg of soft wheat flour
6-7 yolks, pole 3-4 whole eggs
How to calculate the correct proportion? For one person – one yolk / egg and 100 g of flour, an egg weighs on average 70 g.
Knead the dough like you would for regular noodles. If necessary, you can add a little lukewarm water in the process, if you see that the dough is dry. When you get an elastic mass, roll it into a ball, cover with foil, let the dough “rest” for half an hour. Then roll out the pasta by hand or, having cut the dough into narrow long layers, pass it several times through a special machine. Spread the strips of dough on kitchen towels and dry a little. Then again pass it through the machine, this time setting the cutting mode, the thickness is 2-3 mm. Or take a layer of dough, roll it into a tube and cut it into thin strips by hand with a very sharp heavy knife. Sprinkle flour on the resulting noodles, manually separating the strips so that they do not stick together. Let dry. Country women prepare pasta in the evening to serve it for lunch or dinner later. It is stored for 2-3 days.
Boil the tayarin noodles in boiling salted water. It is brewed very quickly, about three minutes. Don’t confuse egg noodles with durum pasta, which should remain al dente – slightly undercooked. Egg noodles are fluffy and soft.
At the same time, melt some butter in a skillet. You can also add a drop of cold-pressed olive. And if you wish – a little sauce, obtained by stewing meat. Sometimes this is done to give an additional taste, sometimes – so that nothing in the house is lost. Throw the boiled noodles into the pan, toss to mix well. Serve immediately by rubbing the white truffle previously washed under cold running water on a special grater. Remember that the truffle is not washed in advance – only before serving, so as not to lose its exceptional aroma!
The perfect gastronomic combination is tayarin and a glass of Barolo or Barbaresco! Indeed, in the aroma, you can clearly hear the forest, truffle, autumn! But if you can’t afford expensive wines, we are sure that with both the rich barbera and a decent base Nebbiolo, you will appreciate this dish!
In those seasons when truffles are not at hand, such pasta is served with meat stew (great with barbera!) Or butter and fresh sage leaves (in this case, you should try a bottle of white Arneis, Gavi, Timorasso).
If during cooking you are not averse to aperitive, a glass of Piedmont chardonnay with a slice of fresh bread and butter, or a dolcetto with a slice of sausage will brighten up the process and cheer you up. The Piedmontese themselves are very fond of their native cuisine and wines and are happy to share their habits and recipes with visiting guests.