Late summer into early fall is truffle season in Tuscany, making it a perfect time for a visit, as if you ever really need convincing to visit Italy! I recently had the chance to go truffle hunting in the foothills of Florence and I was amazed at how the whole process works.
Soon after I checked in to the luxurious Hotel Il Salviatino, a 15th-century Italian villa in Fiesole, I realized that this was no ordinary property. The hotel is in the center of a truffle-rich forest, and one of the Italian experiences that Il Salviatino offers is the chance to go truffle hunting with local experts. Enter Giulio Benuzzi and his dog Eda, a Lagotto breed. Giulio is a member of the prestigious Tuscan Truffle Association (Associazione Tartufai delle Colline della Bassa Valdelsa) and has been working with Eda since she was just a puppy.
Puppies are first trained to retrieve balls that have a small piece of truffle attached to them. They are rewarded with biscuits when they successfully bring back the ball. The next phase is to hide some truffles in the yard and pretend to throw the ball. The dog searches first by sight, and when it doesn’t see the ball, it relies on scent and discovers the hidden truffles.
During these hunting games, truffle hunters can instantly tell whether a dog has expert abilities. Eda found the hidden truffles in only ten seconds! She is a real pro.
Viewfinder Tip: Tuscan pastas and Italian risottos are made even more sumptuous with some fresh truffle shaved on top.
While it’s the dog’s job to sniff out the truffles, it’s the truffle hunter’s job to study the forest and to understand under which trees truffles are most likely to grow. It is also imperative that truffle hunters be quick to secure the truffle after the dog has discovered it. Like humans, dogs love to eat truffles, which could cost the hunter a pretty penny!
Of course, a bit of luck is also part of the process, and on the day that I went truffle hunting, luck was definitely on our side. We entered Il Salviatino park and after only about five minutes of walking, Eda was on the move. She quickly identified a patch of land covered by dry leaves. She was fixated.
Giulio used a shovel-like tool to gingerly dig up the area, and sure enough, a giant black truffle was just a few inches under the surface. That trend continued, and it was not long until we had about six truffles ready to be served at dinner!
Back at Hotel Il Salviatino, I enjoyed homemade gnudi pasta with a blanket of our fresh truffles and a glass of Chianti while overlooking the most magical view of the city of Florence. It was a perfect ending to my Florentine truffle-hunting adventure.
Have you ever been truffle hunting?