Written by Tim Heap for City Jet – Images: Kirstie Young
Take a journey in the undergrowth looking for the Tuscan treasure, Truffles! Along with wild boar hunting and being cooked for by Tom Aikens Tim heap had an truly Italian time at Il Borgo di Petroio
A Tuscan Treasure Hunt
Florence is famed for its cultural clout, but head out into the Tuscan countryside to nd all the ingredients you’ll need for a veritable foodie feast – whatever the season
“ The smell is pungent, even through the soil, and I’m somewhat taken aback by it, having had very little experience of eating truffles of the non-chocolate variety”
Suddenly, Gina’s o , scarpering to a patch of grass at the edge of the eld, nose pressed to the ground, tracing a scent. She starts digging, sending mud flying backwards, and gradually unearths the treasure that we’re hunting for.
To give some context, Gina is a dog – not just any dog, but a prized, specially-trained crossbreed (exactly which breeds is top-secret, it seems). e treasure she seeks is the underground fungus that’s used in haute cuisine around the world and changes hands for thousands of pounds a kilo: the truffle. In Tuscany’s undulating countryside, it grows in harmony amongst the roots of a host tree, trading phosphorous for sugars in a symbiotic existence. Truffles have been described as “the diamond of the kitchen”, and, although more and more of them are being farmed in the UK, France and Italy corner the market when it comes to the rarer and more valuable varieties.
It’s November, towards the start of the truffle-hunting season, and we’ve joined Cesare Profeti from Savitar Tartu (www.savitar.it) on the vast Camugliano estate to hunt for the delicacy. It’s much less involved than I had expected; a pleasant countryside stroll punctuated with bursts of activity from Gina instead of the swashbuckling adventure through dense foliage that the word ‘hunt’ might conjure. While pigs are more traditionally used to sniff out the little black mushrooms, the use of them has been banned in Italy since 1985. In any case, the ease with which dogs can be trained makes them good contenders for the mission. During our short loop around the estate – down autumnal tree-lined avenues and across slightly- boggy fields – Gina’s clever nose tracks down a small handful of truffles, which Cesare skillfully collects before they’re devoured by the canine. Read more