Eating My Way Through Italy: Hunting for Truffles

Black Summer Truffles in a Shop (Rome, Italy). Photo by Adrian Pingstone
Black Summer Truffles in a Shop (Rome, Italy). Photo by Adrian Pingstone

By Brian Gage

Elizabeth Minchilli's new book on discovering the hidden gems of Italian cuisine explores some of the lesser known delicacies that you can expect to find regionally when traveling throughout Italy.

Eating My Way Through Italy: Heading Off the Main Roads to Discover the Hidden Treasures of the Italian Table is a culinary guide that allows you to experience some of the fascinating local traditions of the different regions in Italy while learning tricks on how to prepare dishes the Italian way, as well as where to go to find some of the best food Italy has to offer.

Minchilli always travels with food in mind, and her guide is sure to get your mind (or stomach) interested too. She is often revered as an expert on Italian food, however, she is most familiar with Roman techniques, she's always learning new information on the traditions of the surrounding areas, adding to her internal Italian food lexicon. Here is an excerpt from her book, detailing the important role of truffles in Umbrian cuisine:

Excerpt From the Book: Truffles in Umbria

"If someone told me that one day I would have too many truffles, I would have checked to see if they had a fever. Too many truffles? Is that like having too many oysters? Or too much champagne? Is that really a thing?

A CBS News report back in 2012 called truffles, the knotty tuber that frequently grows under oak trees, the most expensive food in the world.
A CBS News report back in 2012 called truffles, the knotty tuber that frequently grows under oak trees, the most expensive food in the world.

Now, however, that I live in the land of truffles, I've discovered that it is, in fact, a thing. And that thing is good.

Let me backtrack a bit. When I say that I live in the land of truffles, I don't mean roam, obviously. I'm referring to our home in Umbria.

And while I've always loved truffles, it was in Umbria that I learned that truffles are not always meant to be consumed in thin slices in rarefied restaurants, but something that you could actually order up at a truck-stop diner.

Learned from a Neighbor

I first learned about local truffles from my neighbor and Marisa, who lives down the road from us, on a working a farm. Since the day we moved in, she would gift me things like goose or rabbit, a dozen eggs, or a bag full of freshly harvested wild chicory. But one day she came over with a sack of truffles. Needless to say, I was shocked.

A word about these truffles. When most people think of truffles they imagine pale slivers being shaved off a precious tuber in an expensive restaurant. As the waiter shaves, you are mentally adding up just how much that heavenly pasta or risotto will cost. And cost it does.

But those are usually white truffles from Alba, in Piemonte, black truffles from Perigord in France, and are quite a different animal from what Marisa was handing over.

Elizabeth Minchilli
Elizabeth Minchilli

As I took the precious gift from her hands I was a bit taken aback by the cold. The plastic bag was frosty and closed with one of those twisty metal things. Not very ceremonious for what I thought of as a priceless tuber.

"Sono scorzone." "They are scorzone," Marisa explained, implying that they were nothing to get that worked up about. But even frozen, even through the bag, I could smell their intense aroma. "They're good for pasta, but put them in the freezer right away, that way they will stay fresh."

What I had was a pound of summer truffles (tuber aestivum vitt). And as I soon learned not all truffles are created equal. As it turns out these truffles are readily "findable" all over Umbria, from the end of May to the end of August.

And the thing that makes them easier to find compared to their expensive fall and winter cousins, is their intense smell, which also makes them perfect for cooking.

While the more prized varieties may have a more intense taste, the aroma of the summer truffles stands up to the heat, which makes it a favorite with chefs both local and not. But you do have to use quite a few to make an impact—which explained Marisa's gracious gift of plenty.

To get the full effect you have to use a heavy hand. The locals know this, and you will never see them shaving them onto anything unless it's a final garnish.

They use them by the handful and treat them almost like a vegetable. An expensive vegetable, but a vegetable."

Elizabeth Minchilli is the author of numerous books on the joys of Italian life, including Eating Rome. She has written for more than forty magazines and today shares her passion for Italy through her blog, her bestselling apps, and her tour company.

She divides her time between a rooftop apartment in Rome and a restored farmhouse in Umbria, with her husband, Domenico.

Eating My Way Through Italy: Heading Off the Main Roads to Discover the Hidden Treasures of the Italian Table

Brian Gage is a resident of Amherst, Massachusetts and a lover of all things outdoors. He enjoys traveling to exciting new locations, attempting to take in the most beautiful natural sites he can see. He is an avid hiker and climber and can be found at the Hadley Central Rock Gym on many of his free days.