The Tartufo Bianco
This October to celebrate the white truffle season I joined a group of artists and guests in a hunt for the famous ‘tartufo bianco’ Truffle as part of the seasonal truffle weekender at Villa Lena. We explored the Villa Lena estate that is over 500 hectares of woodland – the perfect spot to hunt for the truffle and to reconnect with nature during the changing seasons.
Truffles grow spontaneously around Villa Lena’s estate – they can be black, red and white. They are a seasonal delicacy and different truffles grow during different times of the year. However, the white truffle is the most coveted one. As if they where a delicate artwork, the weather conditions are extremely vital for the truffle reproduction, as it cannot be too cold or too hot, neither too wet or too dry.
The truffle weekend experience was immersive, we learnt about the truffle hunting process on a hike through the colourful Tuscan forest, accompanied by truffle dogs. This was followed by a hands-on pasta workshop and a delicious homemade meal, topped with white truffle, which we had collected on the hunt that very morning.
We learnt, had fun, shared time with local people who shared their knowledge so generously and tasted Italian cuisine at it’s best.
The day started off at the San Michelle restaurant while we recharged with some delicious pastries, alongside a cup of Italian espresso. Once ready, we jumped into the green SUV and went deep into the woods until we arrived at the starting point. The morning had been misty and cold, however we made our way through the now sun dappled woodlands the warmth of the season broke through.
The experience started with a brief explanation from our truffle experts and an introduction to their dogs – the stars of the event!
Luciana, the truffle guide, had a fancy name for each of her dogs. We were expecting some large and sleek-looking hunter dogs and so where surprised when her dogs where in-fact rather small and cute, a shaggy breed. Our expert truffle hunters, Luciana and Stefano, know this area really well and share facts about truffles, types of trees and soil composition in the region.
We followed the truffle hunters as they head off into the forest, accompanied by their dog squad. The guide provide some directions to the dogs as they work together to find truffles that are deep in the ground, sometimes as deep as 27 cm!
The hunt is a combination of the dog’s ability to smell truffles, paired with the guides directions based on previous knowledge of which trees in the area have provided truffles in the past.
The hunt begins and the dogs run feverishly around the woods, pressing their noses to the ground and guided by the intense scent of truffle.
Once the dogs detect the pungent aroma of a truffle, they stop and begin to dig; this is a good sign and means they have found something! This is when Luciana jumps in and takes the dog away from the truffle, because the dog’s instinct is to dig for it and could result in the truffle being damaged or scratched. Instead the guide starts softly digging with a small shovel. Once they are close to the truffle, the guide uses her hands so as not to damage the precious product. Rewarded for their hard work, the dogs get a treat every time they found a truffle.
After the hunt through the dense woodlands we are quite hungry and exhausted.So its time for our next adventure, the truffle pasta workshop!
Here, we learn how to prepare and cook a delicious pasta or gnocchi, while enjoying some Villa Lena wines. The workshop is led by the creative and passionate chef in residence, who talks about their experience of cooking Italian recipes.
Sage tempura, homemade warm focaccia bread dipped in olive oil and truffle pasta, await for you after the long hike. All of this followed by a delicious pistachio ice cream, washed down with delicious Villa Lena red wine.
Few things beat the feeling of enjoying white truffles grated on top of your homemade pasta – after a morning of hunting with the skilled guides and their trusty dogs. This was truly a gastronomic experience you will want to share with friends and family.
We invite you to join us this autumn and enjoy this truffle season experience at Villa Lena! We believe it is the perfect spot to enjoy an exceptional all-round Tuscan experience, to learn about the white truffle, create and cook pasta and to taste the best of rural Tuscany.
You can find out more about the Truffle weekend experience here
Beatriz Tomás is currently working for the Villa Lena Foundation