Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Truffle Hunting in Umbria: A Day with the Dogs

An age old tradition in the richest black truffle region of Italy, truffles are an integral part of Umbria’s cuisine, and truffle hunting an integral part of its culture. It’s a beautiful and simple way of life: the mountains, the truffle hunter, the dogs, the forest, a small pick and a leather bag full of truffles. In Pettino there has been a truffle hunter in every family for centuries. Truffle hunting is a way of life in the village, and the truffles are an everyday part of the diet. A small historic village nestled on a peaceful plateau surrounded by Umbria’s stunning Apennine Mountains, Pettino is surrounded by forests made up of beech and oak trees, which are rich in the famous Umbrian black truffles of both the winter and summer varieties. Because truffles grow a few inches underground, they’re impervious to frost, but that also makes them hard to detect, so truffle hunters use dogs to find the elusive spores.

Joining Wild Food Italy for a day of truffle hunting in the spectacular Apennine Mountains of Umbria, we were met by Mac at the local church where we told to rendezvous and then drove down the lane to the family farm and met by Francesca, the owner of Wild Foods Italy and her cousin Luca, who was our truffle guide for the day along with his two dogs who had been trained to hunt for truffles. Climbing into his jeep which took us up into the mountains, we soon arrived at a designated spot our our truffle adventure to begin, but before we embarked on the hunt for the elusive tuber, Mac gave us a quick history of the village, the forests, and a history of truffle hunting. With our expert truffle hunter at our side, we combed the truffle-rich forests and pastures, following Luca's highly trained dogs as they hunted for the black prize, admiring the spectacular views in every direction as we strolled the countryside. When we had enough truffles for lunch, we stopped for our first taste of a freshly dug truffle and a glass of Prosecco in the middle of a pasture where a herd of sheep were grazing under the watchful eyes of Dan and five fluffy white Maremma sheep dogs. 

We then headed back at the village to experience the family’s culinary traditions and enjoying an assortment of home-made antipasti including truffle bruschetta, prosciutto and Francesca's pecorino cheese, with bottles of local red wine. We then sat down to a sumptuous Umbrian mountain lunch, with Francesca's homemade Tagliatelle al Tartufo Nero Estivo to start, followed by Italian-style roast chicken and Luca's grilled pork and Francesca's Tiramisu as our dolce. An extraordinary experience with absolutely lovely and interesting people, Wild Foods Italy should definitely be on the itinerary of anyone wanting to spend a day truffle hunting in a secluded village in the magnificent Apennine Mountains of Umbria.

Arriving at the church in the tiny hamlet of Pettino at 10am, we were greeted by Mac from Wild Foods Umbria, and begin our truffle hunting adventure

Lovely Luca was our truffle hunting guide for the day

Spectacular views of the Pettino countryside high up in the Apennine mountains

 We waited for a herd of Chianina cattle to pass by as they moved from one field to another, before starting our truffle hunting adventure 

Francesca's funny and fabulous Aussie husband Mac escorted us on our truffle hunting day 
with Luca and the dogs

Camera in hand, we're on our way

With shovel in hand, Luca and the dogs go in search of truffles

As the dogs pick up the scent for buried truffles, Luca uses his shovel to pry them loose from the soil

 With a pocket full of treats, Luca rewards the dogs when they find a truffle, 
which encourages them to find more

A prized Umbrian truffle dug up fresh from the earth

Another truffle = another dog biscuit

Mac, Luca and his one dog watch as the other puppy darts down the hill on the scent of the elusive spore

Hot on the scent of more truffles

Umbrian bee on an eryngo thistle which grows in these mountains

Looking down over the small historic village of Pettino

Luca places all the truffles we found today on a weight scale

With the drought Italy experienced this past year, the truffles are smaller than usual
but still potent and delicious

Luca drove us to the mountainside pasture where the family's flock of sheep were grazing

Dan the sheep herder, is Mac's cousin from Australia, who came for a holiday and never left

Mac opening the first of four bottles of prosecco

Luca unwraps the homemade pecorino and has the full attention of the Maremma sheep dogs whose task is to protect the sheep, but cheese is more compelling 

"Did someone say cheese?"


Slicing some of Francesca's delicious homemade pecorino for us all to enjoy

Pecorino and bubbly served in the pasture surrounded by sheep and dozens of dogs - la dolce vita!

The Bracco Italiano is a beautiful hunting dog breed but also very sweet and affectionate 

Luca washing the truffles for our breakfast

Truffle hunting guide and chef, Luca prepares scrambled eggs in the trunk of Mac's car

Lovely bright yellow farm fresh eggs

Luca's scrambled eggs topped with fresh shaved truffles and drizzled with the family's 
Wild Foods Italy olive oil

A heavenly breakfast with shaved truffles and endless glasses of prosecco

As we were eating, the sheep got closer and closer 

The sound of them chewing was very loud as they slowly enveloped us in their 
unfettered quest for continual grazing

Portable kitchen in a box

Returning to the family farm we were invited into 'La Cacera', 
where the homemade prosciutto, salsicce, pecorino and olive oil is stored

Luca hunts and butchers all the meat, like these hanging prosciutto, and through Wild Foods Umbria offers guests unique luxury hunting tours for wild boar, partridge, pheasant and hare 

Salsicce hanging from the rafters

Slicing his own homemade prosciutto 

Full flavoured and absolutely delicious

Luca preparing grilled crostini with generous spoonfuls of aromatic black truffle sauce 

A whole pot full of warm Wild Foods Italy black truffle sauce

Francesca's homemade Truffle Sauce

Luca started the grill as soon as we returned from the hills in preparation for his grilled pork

Francesca's Uncle Franco scratching Margherita's tummy,
the resident pot bellied pig

Farm fresh eggs and flour

Francesca gently combines the mixture until it's the correct consistency 

Using her mother's long rolling pin, Francesca regions to roll out the pasta dough

With years of practice, Francesca rolls the pasta out perfectly

The pasta dough is left to dry for about half an hour

The dough is folded over into a long strip then Francesca cuts the pasta into long ribbons 

Absolutely perfect!

Luca seasoning the pork 

Set over the hot embers, the pork sizzled away

The stone and brick entrance to La Cucina — Francesca's Kitchen

The charming table setting with the Wild Foods Italy logo

The mouthwatering aroma of black truffle sauce filled the kitchen

Francesca's handmade tagliatelle with truffle sauce

Francesca's oven roasted chicken with rosemary

Roast Chicken and Potatoes

Roast Chicken, Luca's Grilled Pork and Potatoes

Francesca's decadent Tiramisu was a sweet ending to an outstanding day
we will treasure always

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