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Eating Local… In Italy – Truffles

 

A Nose for Truffles

by Krista Harris

  • Day Two: Of Castles and Truffles
  • What We Did: Went to Monferrato, truffle hunting!
  • What We Ate and Drank: Buffet breakfast, cappuccino and cake break, beer pairing lunch, truffles and wine, and a multi course dinner… with more wine, and grappa.

We leave Torino after a full breakfast at the hotel and head to the country. Along the way, we stop at a charming spot for cappucinno and home made treats. The delicious dense chocolate cake takes me by surprise. It is absolutely decadent. I ask what it is called and the baker replies “a brownie.” Well, so much for an exotic Italian name. The shop is also loaded with local specialty food products. The jars and bottles are so tempting, but only to those of us who have lots of room in our suitcase.

Our next stop is the craft brewery Grado Plato, where we get a tour and then sit down to the first of our multi course meals today.

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Above: the team at Grano Plato (brewmaster Gabriele Pierini, Irene Barbero, and chef Gabriele Ormea)

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Platters of antipasti: crostini with lardo, snails, carmelized onions, crostini with pesto

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Risotto with ham and made with beer (delicious must try this idea at home!)

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Pork with hemp sauce (love the heart shape on the plate!)

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Dessert was this little chocolate cup topped with a beer gelée

The lunch is amazing. Each beer pairs perfectly with the food. The atmosphere is great and we leave full but so happy.

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Then we arrive at the Castello di Razzano in Monferrato. And, yes, it is a castle. We feel as though we have stepped through the gates into another time and place. We quickly unpack and then meet back at the bus to go to the truffle hunt.

As the driver tries to back up, horrible sounds emerge and the bus refuses to move. We get off the bus, Paolo makes a few phone calls and within about 5 minutes, cars arrive and we are off to the truffle hunt. It is amazing to us how quickly the problem is solved. Ah, this is Italy.

We arrive at the beautiful estate of Giorgio and Gracielle Cardani. Rows and rows of trees surround their home (we later learn that it is a carefully selected combination of oaks, poplars, hazelnuts and lindens). We are introduced to Zara, the truffle hunting dog, and our walk begins.

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It is fascinating to see how Giorgio puts a muzzle on Zara and then takes her off the leash to go running here and there with her nose to the ground. She loves her work, but the muzzle ensures that she won’t get too carried away when she finds a truffle. And Giorgio rewards her with a biscuit for every truffle she finds. Within a short distance, Zara has sniffed out a potential truffle site, Georgio carefully digs into the soft soil and lifts out a small black truffle. We are thrilled with “our” first find.

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The walk through the trees continues, and we learn more about the different varieties of truffles. There are the black summer truffles which are just going out of season and the more valuable white truffles which are just coming into season. The excitment ebbs and flows when Zara has a few false alarms but continues to find more, culminating in the big find of the day—a fairly good sized white truffle! As we pass it around to inhale the aroma, we comment on how much more pungent and delectable it smells. There is a reason they are so pricey… over a hundred dollars per ounce.

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At the end of our walk, we sit down at a beautiful outdoor table and they bring out wine and appetizers with the fruit of our labors. Crostini piled high with truffles and freshly grated black truffles shaved right on top.

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There is nothing more incredible than being in this setting eating these truffles. We sip the delicious wine and chat about their family, their other jobs as school teachers and about their experiences here. I suppose we wish we could be them for a moment. Living here, hunting truffles with Zara and having the ability to eat one of the most delicious, sought after ingredients whenever one chooses. But eventually, it is time to leave and they are kind enough to drive us to the restaurant where we are going to have dinner.

We arrive in the nearby village of Zanco at Da Maria, where we are in for a huge Piemonte style dinner served with excellent wine by Enrico Druetto. Appetizers are served one by one. Even people who would never eat steak tartare, are trying it and are amazed at how delicious it is. After many courses, we think we can’t possibly eat another bite, but there is a platter of cookies from Cesare Barberis, that we can’t keep off our hands off of. They say that a bit of grappa helps you digest a big meal. It seems it does.

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We must be giddy from everything that has happened today on the ride back. And it takes a full 10 minutes to figure out the huge key and complicated lock on the castle gate, amidst much laughter and the increasing feeling that this night will be long remembered.

Next… Day 3: From the Good Earth


Krista Harris is the co-publisher and editor of Edible Santa Barbara. You can read more about the Edible Santa Barbara Tour and sign up to be notified of the next tour on this page.

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