3 Apr 2015

Where to go Truffle hunting in Le Marche, Italy


One of the most fun (and delicious!) things we did on our trip to Le Marche, Italy, was going truffle hunting in Acqualagna. We visited in autumn last year, and because of the preceding wet summer, truffles were plentiful. We still had to rely on the trained nose of truffle hunter, Chicca and her master Giorgio Remedia, but we had the most fruitful visit! Read on to find out more...

Treasure Hunt
On the trail of the elusive (and expensive) truffle in Le Marche, Italy
 
Image courtesy Mariano Pallottini
Chicca, vieni qua (come here)”, calls out Giorgio Remedia and the wiry grey hound bounds over, holding in her mouth what looks like a black, misshapen potato the size of my fist. She drops it in Remedia’s palm and holds open her mouth for a treat, before running off again. One whiff of the musky scent and I know it’s no potato, rather the much-valued black truffle. 

I am in Acqualagna, the truffle-hunting capital of Le Marche region of central Italy.


Think Italian tartufi (truffles) and Alba immediately pops into mind. This tiny town in Piedmont is famous for its prized white truffles, and hosts the annual International Truffle Fair over six weeks in autumn. However, truffles grow in most parts of Italy, and Acqualagna has a particularly rich yield. “In Marche we have both black and white truffles; in fact all nine types of edible truffles grow in these mountains”, says Mariano Pallottini, ex-editor of Life Marche magazine, who accompanies me on the hunt.






Truffles grow underground, and are a symbiotic mushroom relying on tree roots for nutrients. They are usually found in thick woodlands, especially where there are many oaks and poplars. Because they grow underground and cannot be detected by the human eye (or nose), truffle hunters train dogs to do the work. “Initially pigs were used for truffle hunting, but they are quite unruly and tend to eat the truffles themselves”, says Remedia. He is a third generation truffle hunter and is generally acknowledged as the best in Acqualagna, with several dogs that he has been training since they were puppies. 


Chicca (pronounced ki-kka) is 8 years old and an expert on finding truffles; in the hour I spent trudging behind Remedia and Pallottini, she had dug up a dozen truffles of varying sizes. The previous day’s rains had left the ground muddy, a perfect setting for truffle hunting, though not very kind to my boots. Every time Chicca digs up a truffle, Remedia pats the soil back in place. “Truffle spores remain in the soil and it’s important to restore the environment so that development of truffles remains sustainable year-on-year” explains Pallottini.


For a sleepy town of 5,000 residents, Acqualagna seems like an unlikely location for the multi-million-euro truffle business. Yet there are no less than 10 different truffle industries here. Acqualagna Tartufi is one amongst them, a thirty-year-old family-owned company that buys a large percentage of truffles found in the region. Walking into the facility is like stepping into truffle paradise; a pungent, earthy aroma fills the air and there are crates piled high with truffles, waiting to be cleaned. “We sell some truffles to private buyers, but a large quantity goes into making our truffle products, such as cream, oil and sauces”, says Emaneula Bartolucci, the owner of Acqualagna Tartufi, as she shows me around. In a market besieged with synthetically made truffle products (a growing problem in Italy), Bartolucci takes pride in Acqualagna’s high quality, preservative-free products; “it’s all chilometro zero (local)”, she smiles.  


At Acqualagna Tartufi, with Emanuela Bartolucci. Image courtesy Mariano Pallottini
Later that night, I dig into a simple dish of buttered pasta, made decadent by a topping of delicately shaved truffles. It’s the most expensive thing I have eaten; black truffles can cost up to €2000 per kg (Rs. 136,000), while white truffles go for as much as €5000 per kg (Rs. 341,000); well worth the price of one ruined pair of boots, in my opinion!


Where to Stay: Urbino Resort (30 km from Acqualagna) is a restored farm estate, with a pool & spa, and a celebrated chef in the kitchen. More details in a later post! 


When to Go: Truffle season is from April to November. Acqualagna hosts three truffle fairs:
  • The National White Truffle Fair - October-November
  • The Regional Superior Black Truffle Fair - the second to last Sunday of February
  • The Regional Summer Black Truffle Fair - first Sunday in August

Must Do:

  • Go on a speleological exploration of the subterranean Frasassi Caves
  • Trek up to Valadier’s Temple, a striking octagonal church at the mouth of a mountain cave
  • Learn horseback riding at Urbino Resort


This story was commissioned by Vogue India. An edited version of this was published in the April 2015 Travel issue. 

4 comments:

  1. What do truffles taste like?

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    Replies
    1. They have a pungent, earthy taste. Very heady! And you need a very small amount of truffle to appreciate its flavour :)

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  2. What an amazing experience to actually go truffle hunting! You should definitely try to make it to Alba one year for the Truffle festival there-the smell is just incredible!

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