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Truffle Hunting in Puglia, Italy
“Every day is a good day for truffle hunting,” says Giuseppe Lolli, winemaker, restaurant owner, and truffle hunter.
Giuseppe hunts for truffles in the Puglia and Basilicata regions of Italy: two regions where few people know truffles exist. Giuseppe aims to change this. He is the lead organizer of the Salento Truffle Festival, now in its third year, and says that he primarily finds black truffles in Puglia and black and white truffles in Basilicata. Giuseppe loads his truck with his two dogs Rot and Brioche, and we strike out for the country.
Italy’s best-known area for truffles is Piedmont in the north. The city of Alba, the white truffle capital of the world, draws hundreds of thousands of food and wine enthusiasts every year. There is even a very popular Italian Truffle Festival in Alba.
Eating fresh truffles can be a costly endeavor—the most expensive truffle cost a man from Hong Kong $160,406—and the average mark up from Alba to foreign destinations is 1,000%. Truffles are sold for lower prices in Alba, and six months prior to meeting Giuseppe, I went to the region to indulge in the incredible mushroom. Unfortunately, I completely failed.
When I arrived in Alba in April, I learned that fresh white truffle is only available between September and December, and maybe January if you’re lucky. Hotels, B&Bs, rental cars, and restaurants need to be reserved months in advance. Certainly, this rarity adds to the truffle’s greatness.
Scientists have yet to discover a way to farm truffles efficiently, and white truffles grow in only select locations on earth. They grow underground, often beneath large oak trees, and it takes a very good nose to find them.
Now, it getting your Italian truffle fix is easier than ever. You can simply order them on Amazon – and at a much more affordable price point than fresh.
Let’s Go Truffle Hunting
Back in Puglia, after a fifteen-minute drive, Giuseppe pulls off the quiet paved road, on to a dirt road. We bounce along the road-which seems more path than road at times-for another few minutes.
We park and Giuseppe lets Brioche and Rot hit the trail. He pulls a pointed trowel from the back of his truck and we walk into the woods. The land is populated by olive and almond trees.
Abandoned stone walls run everywhere. Giuseppe points to a stone trough that is barely discernible beneath our feet and says that it was once an aqueduct. This ancient land has always been known as a land of plenty.
Truffle Hunting Dogs
It only takes a moment and the dogs paw a patch of dirt enthusiastically. When they dig deep enough to thrust their hungry snouts inside, Giuseppe utters a command and the dogs cease and desist immediately.
Giuseppe, with a big smile, pulls out a medium-size black truffle. It smells incredible. Not as powerful as when it’s sliced or grated, but fresh; nutty. It has the character of fresh almond, porcini mushroom, and heavy summertime humidity all rolled into one.
The olive trees puff gently with wind from the nearby Adriatic Sea as we continue truffle hunting. Giuseppe points to a place where he saw a falcon the last time he was here. It quickly becomes apparent that Giuseppe’s dog, Rot, is the more dedicated hunter. Brioche begins to run off on a different search of his own. Rot, however, persists in unearthing truffles. After a while, Brioche gets back to business.
The soil is not as dry as I would have expected with Puglia’s nearly rainless summers. This is due to an encompassing system of underground rivers that supply the region with water. The region’s soil is primarily composed of limestone, which is easily carved. That such a strange mixture of environmental factors results in the growth of truffles is baffling.
Indulging in Italian Truffles
After another half an hour, we’ve found a significant number of truffles: enough to fill both of Giuseppe’s hands. This is how he supplies his restaurant with fresh truffles. The name of his restaurant is Kebabb, and it is located in the coastal town of Torre dell’Orso.
There, you can find fresh Italian truffles year-round. You can add it to any dish on the menu for 2 euro. While nothing beats the white truffle for potency in my opinion, black truffles have an incredible flavor. And it’s nice to know that you can get a meal of fresh Italian truffles year-round in Puglia.
Wine Tasting Break
To conclude our expedition, we drive to his vineyards for a pick-me-up of homemade, sparkling Chardonnay. The Chardonnay vines have been trained to grow in the tendone style: the vines grow high in the air and create a canopy in order for the leaves to shield the grapes from the sun. Walking beneath the canopy of vines, I ask Giuseppe why he grows his grapes this way. He answers, “For parties.” Of course, why didn’t I think of that.
Giuseppe may be one of the only winemakers currently growing and bottling Pinot Noir in Puglia, and his arduous endeavor creates a wonderfully rustic wine. Unfortunately, I don’t see it entering the world market anytime soon: He makes his wine for his restaurant.
Seeing his small wine-making set up reminded me that Italian families have been making their own wine for thousands of years. I ate a chardonnay grape straight from the vine then drank a sip of the sparkling Chardonnay made from last year’s Chardonnay grapes. The wine-making process became momentarily transparent, the taste of one year intruding upon the next. It was as astonishing as snow in Los Angeles, and as pleasantly surprising as fresh truffles in Puglia.
Truffle Hunting Italy was written by Mattie Bamman for EuropeUpClose.com