Known as “diamonds of the kitchen” truffles have been a sought after delicacy since the days of the Assyrians as far back as 2000 BC and later by the Ancient Greeks and Romans. These days a little hilltop town in Tuscany produces some of the most valuable truffles in Italy and its annual white truffle festival draws connoisseurs from around the world. If you’re a foodie, here’s why you need to make a bee line straight for San Miniato!
Perched atop 3 small hills in central Tuscany, San Miniato sits at an historically strategic crossroad between the Pisa to Florence and Lucca to Siena roads, dominating the lower Arno Valley below. The comune’s hillsides provide a perfect spot for the elusive Tuber magnatum pico white truffle to flourish as its shaded woods are home to the oak, chestnut, lime and poplar trees essential for symbiotic truffle growth. And today this pristine natural habitat is world famous for its pungently perfumed truffles, the food of gods.
Hunted from September to December the white truffle is extremely elusive and hard to find. The tubers are impossible to spot by sight as they grow a few centimeters underground so truffle hunters use trained dogs to sniff out their earthy aroma, rewarding them with treats for each truffle they find. And it’s this scarcity, together with an extremely hot and dry Italian summer this year and the short hunting season, that makes the delicious white truffle the undisputed star of the show at the annual San Miniato festival as its perfume permeates throughout the town.
San Miniato opens its doors to truffle gourmets over four winter weekends between November and December. Visitors arrive from around the world to peruse stalls bursting with mouth-watering local produce. And obviously you can buy fresh truffles paying anything from €100 for a little one to several thousand euros depending on the weight. Or you can browse the truffle infused products and still get your truffle hit without breaking the bank!
The town brims with truffle cheese, truffle cream, truffle oil, truffle salt, truffle salame, truffle paste and even truffle lard.
And you can also appreciate the best of the best that Tuscany has to offer in prosciutto, pasta, pickles, salame, olives, bread, sausages, oils, chocolate, flavoured wafers, chestnuts and, of course, wine! Trust me, you’re bound to find something. And most producers are happy to give little samples to whet your appetite so what are you waiting for?
But it’s the truffles that everyone comes for. They’re a perfect addition to pasta, meat, grated over a dish or to subtly enhance a sauce. Needless to say you won’t come away empty handed or hungry!
So there you have it! The 45th white truffle festival runs for four winter weekends in San Miniato, Tuscany, opening Saturday 14th November and ending on Sunday 6th December 2015 so you still have plenty of time still to sample this year’s truffle harvest. How do you like your truffles? Grated, sliced, in a sauce or infusing a mature cheese? Leave me a comment with your favourite recipes and don’t worry, if you don’t make it this time there is always next year!
San Miniato festival website here
Dates – The 45th white truffle festival runs for four weekends in 2015 as below
Saturday 14th & Sunday 15th November
Saturday 21st & Sunday 22nd November
Saturday 28th & Sunday 29th November
Saturday 5th & Sunday 6th December 2015
Six fascinating facts about truffles
- Truffles are a type of mushroom or fungi that grow under the surface of the soil, usually close to tree roots.
- There are around 30 different types of truffles in Italy but only a handful are edible to take care!
- Truffles will only grow in woods where there are certain specific species of trees including oak and poplars. The truffles form a symbiotic relationship with the trees and would not grow without them.
- The San Miniato white truffle season runs from September to December but other types of truffle can be hunted at different times of the year.
- Truffle prices can vary greatly from year depending on weather conditions, rainfall, summer temperatures and hunt success.
- A truffle’s flavour depends on its moistness and freshness. Truffles lose their flavour after just a few days as they dry out so always buy fresh to get the best quality and flavour.
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