When you think of Italy, what's the first thing that comes to mind? Let's make a wild guess. The Colosseum, the Vatican, wine, pasta, pizza and oh, gelato! Do you also know that the country has the most expensive food lying around in the dirt in the woods somewhere up north in the Piedmont region? Worth thousands of dollars? Yes, it's true, and they are the white truffles of Alba (Tuber magnatum); they cost about 3,000 euros a kilo (that's about $4,000 per 2.2 pounds)! There are also the black truffles, which cost about a tenth of the price of the whites. Now we can understand why they are handled with gloves and priced by every paper-thin shaving you get in the restaurants.
Hunting them in the woods is a different kind of scenario from the polished silver and crystal that accompanies them in posh restaurants. It's not like a wine tour or a cheese tour, where you sit comfortably tasting and assessing what's given to you. You get your shoes dirty as you follow a dog and his master as they weave their way through the woods at an early hour in the morning. But the trophy? The exhilarating experience of finding the truffles!
The tour begins just after the sunrise. Wear comfortable shoes you can trek through the woods with and cover up according to the season. The fun begins when the dog excitedly goes to work. Your job is to follow, crossing your fingers that he finds something. Truffles are embedded under the soil, close to roots of the trees, and when the dog smells something, his master digs with the vanghetto (a special tool for digging truffles) and extracts the truffle carefully. Sometimes the black truffles grow so close to the surface that the dog does the digging.
For more information about truffle tours, contact the Tourism Board of Alba . The truffle hunter shown here, Ezio, and his dog, Jolly, are part of Tra Arte e Querce Bed & Breakfast, where he organizes truffle hunting tours.
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