The Art of Truffle Hunting


Many of us have tasted truffles in chocolates and pasta sauces but there are still many more of us who have no clue as to what exactly a truffle is or exactly how to "hunt" them.

A truffle is a tuber. More specifically, a truffle is a fruiting body (part of the sexual phase of a fungal life cycle) of an underground mushroom and are typically found at and around the base of trees. There are hundreds of species of Truffles with the majority of truffles being blackish-brown and sometimes white in color. Some of the most famous ones in Italy being the white truffle from Piemonte (Tuber Magnatum Pico), Summer Truffle (Tuber Aestivum Vitt) which comes from many areas including Tuscany’s San Miniato, and the black truffle from the Umbrian village of Norcia (Tuber Melanosporum Vitt). 

In Umbria, the white truffle season, which begins in October, is not so prolific as Alba's to the north. But the black truffle season, which begins in December, sprouts truffles all through the winter and into early summer. So plentiful are Umbrian truffles that the town of Norcia makes a truffle liqueur, Amaro al Tartufo.

Truffle hunting can take place anywhere truffles are grown. In Italy, one must be a member of a truffle hunting cooperative in order to legally collect truffles. A test must be taken (and passed) and a license issued in order to become a tartufai.This is serious business as one who hunts without a license will be promptly arrested. 

Hunting is often done in small groups with special truffle-sniffing pigs or dogs. Dogs are preferred as pigs absolutely love the taste of truffles and many hunters have gone home empty handed as a result of an over-eager pig. Sometimes, truffle hunters are known to be very secretive so as not to make known the location of a particularly fruitful truffle location. There are many places that offer truffle hunting day trips but be prepared to pay quite a bit for this five star foodie-experience.



Truffle hunting is not without its dangers (see here). Every year there are numerous shootings due to largely unregulated hunting laws. There is a growing call by many Italians to change the current hunting laws so as to protect against the growing number of injuries to truffle hunters at the hands wild game hunters. Always remember to always wear brightly colored hunting vests in order to avoid being accidentally shot by wild game hunters.

We learned about truffle hunting first hand during one of our first couple of visits to Tuscumbria when we came across several truffle hunters trekking across the private property belonging to the villa we were staying at. We were told by the managers of the property that very old Italian laws permitted hunters from crossing onto private property to pursue their prey. This law included both wild game hunters and truffle hunters. As Americans we couldn't believe that private property laws didn't protect against trespassers and were equally surprised to hear that a nearby neighbor of the property had his land torched up to his house by a group of angry hunters in retaliation for not allowing them to hunt on the property. Apparently, these hunters believed that it was their legal right to enter onto any private land during hunting season. After retaliatory actions like the one in this example who would question their right? After hearing about this story the managers told us to not be scared if we come across strangers with guns or in small groups and to not make a big deal of it. Easier to say then do.

Here are some truffle hunting resources:

    Wines, Stores, Tours and Tasting

    One of the things Italy is best known for is its wines. One would be hard pressed to go to any restaurant or home and not find an exquisite meal accompanied by an equally delicious wine.

    Italian wines, for the most part, tend to be high in acidity and go very well with foods. Often one can taste an earthy aroma that might include certain elements of the lands in which the grapes are grown. At times one can taste the richness of the soil, truffles, minerals, grass all of which serve to only amplify the flavors of the meal. Typically, Italian wines tend to be medium body as this type of wine goes best with food. 

    Ofcourse, everyone who appreciates a fine wine knows of Italy's Chianti region (in Tuscany) but it is important to point out that there are many other excellent wines grown throughout Italy's twenty other wine regions with a vast variety of grapes.

    Wine regions of Italy and their primary grape varieties

    Italian Wine Quality Classification
    • Vino di Tavolo - This is Italy's lowest quality wine and is typically served in restaurants as "table wine". Minimal regulations are required by the government on this type of wine.
    • Indicazione Geografica Tipica (IGT) - This is the next level of quality wine and often includes wines that are blended and are regional-specific.
    • Denominazione D'Origine Controllata (DOC) - This is wine that is subject to strict regional regulations on grape variety, yields per hectare, aging requirement, and vinification methods. 
    • Denominazione D'Origine Controllata E Garantita (DOCG) - category for the most prestigious subregions in the DOC. Distinctive style, appellation reputation, and commercial success are the additional criteria. There are over 300 DOC brands.

    Decoding the label
    Wine labels are very helpful in that they tend to provide just enough important information about the wine and where it was produced.While wine labels can often be helpful in distinguishing the quality and origin of a wine this is not always true.
    • Most Italian DOC and DOCG wines will either be designated by name (e.g. Barolo or Brunello) or by the type of grape plus the region of origin.
    • If a wine label provides very little information (just a brand name and color) it is safe to assume that this is more likely then not your typical Italian table wine. 
    • If a label has the word "Classico" on it this would most likely indicate that the wine contains grapes from a more prestigious region. 
    • If the label says "Riserva" or "Superiore" this is not necessarily a good thing as riserva often refers to aging and superiore refers to a higher alchohol level.

    T U S C U M B R I A N  W I N E S

    View of the vinyards from Altabella Properties

    Wines from Tuscumbria are high in quality and there are many wines that carry the DOC and DOCG standards. The various microclimates of Tuscumbria permit a rich variety of grapes to be grown and add to the overall quality of the wines. From the undulating hills of Cortona to the waters of Lake Trasimeno it is in these types of environments that Tuscumbrian wines get their robust flavor from.

    The most popular varieties of red wine include those of the Sangiovese, Ciliegiolo, Canaiolo, Montepulciano, Merlot, Cabernet, black Pinot, Sangrantino and Garnay. Similarly, white wines from Tuscumbria also are of high quality and carry the DOC and DOCG standards. The most popular varieties of white wine include those of the  Trebbiano (Orvieto white wines) and imported varieties like the white wines Garganega and Tocai. Other varieties that are popular include the Trebbiano Spoletino wine, the Verdello wine and above all the Grechetto wine. (See: BellaUmbria)

    A great blog that we are now following is Made in Umbria which is a blog on Umbrian wines. 

    W I N E  T A S T I N G & T O U R S

    We have had many fun-filled and educational experiences in wine tasting & touring. From our experiences in throughout Italy to our experiences in New York City, we have learned a great deal on how to be able to distinguish the subtle flavors found in many wines. Having said that, we are certainly not sommeliers or experts. Fortunately for us it does not take an expert palette to truly appreciate a good wine. 

    From our experiences, the key to truly "tasting" a good wine is not to swallow it (which we initially did several times) but to swish it around your mouth (as if it were mouth wash) and then place your tongue to the roof of your mouth, suck in a bit of air while moving your tongue similar to woodchuck doing a backward whistle and then spit it out into the glass.

    Here is a short list of some excellent places that offer wine tasting & tours:
    • In Cortona, Enoteria, on Via Nazionale, is a good place for wine tasting. Also on Via Nazionale is the Antica Drogheria with wine, grappa, and health products of the Camaldolesi monks. 
      Girasoli's Gritti Ristorante
      • In the Niccone Valley, I Girasoli di Sant' Andrea, is the only commercial winery in the valley that offers wine tasting and tours of their cantina and vinyard. The staff is extremely accommodating and knowledgeable and went above and beyond to make our visit a memorable one. It is located on rte 416 east of San Andrea di Sorbello towards Niccone
      • In Umbertide there is the Enoteca Wine Club -"Tucked into an anonymous strip mall in the town of Umbertide in Italy, the Enoteca Wine Club is a hidden little jewel box of a wine shop and osteria." (see: Honest Cooking). 

        W I N E  S T O R E S 

        Molesini wine store in Cortona
        • Enacoteca Molesini - Located in Cortona at Piazza della Repubblica, 3 52044 Cortona, this wine shop is one of the best stores in the area. (Tel 0575-62544,
        • Cavatappi - Cortona, Via Roma  (tel: 0575-603-035)
        • Enoteca Wine Club  - Located at via V. Gabriotti, 18C, Umbertide PG 06019 (tel: 075-942-0214)
        •  La Cantina Di Bacco - Umbertide, Via Bruto Boldrini (tel: 0759-413-849)
        • Consorzio Vino Nobile -Piazza Grande, 7, Montepulciano Sienna - (tel: 0578-717-484)
        • Località Poggio Antico - Montalcino Sienna (tel: 0577-848-044)
        • La Delizie Di Bacco Wine Shop ia De Gasperi Alcide-S.Giustino Valdarno, San Giustino Valdarno, AR 52024 (tel: 0559-172-058)
        • Baldetti Mario - Terontola, Località Terontola Alta (tel: 057-567-143)
        • Fattoria Di Palazzo Vecchio - Valiano, Vi di Terra Rossa, Umbria (tel: 0578-724-170)
        • Megusta - Castiglione Del Lago, Via Vittorio Emmanuele, Umbria (tel: 0759-525-262)
        • Enoteca Ezio Bani - Via Giuseppe Garibaldi, Umbria (tel: 0759-420-316)
        • Enoteca Guidi - Sansepolcro, Via Luca Pacioli, Tuscany (tel: 0575-736-587) 
        • Enotecta Del Saltapicchio - Citta Della Pieve, Via delle Forbici, Umbria (tel: 0578-298-435)
        • Cantina Del Trasimeno - duca Della Corgnia - Citta Della Pieve, Via Po di Mezzo, Umbria (tel: 0578-653-210) 
        • Gio Arte E. Vini - Via Ruggero D'Andreotto, Perugia (tel:  0755-731-100)
        • Ristorante Vineria Del Vassaio - Città Di Castello, Via della Cacioppa
        • Pieve Del Vescovo - Via Giacomo Leopardi, Migiana, Umbria, (tel: 0756-978-874)
        • Cantine Vittoria Innocenti - Via Landucci 12, Montefollonico, Tuscany (tel: 0577-669-537)

          Natural, Organic, Raw, Vegan & Vegetarian Foods In Italy

          We have many friends that have alternative eating lifestyles and have great respect for them and their decision to eat healthier. Italians, in general, eat very well and much of what they eat is quite healthy. However, with the introduction of more foods from America, there is a growing movement to go back to the basics and to discover new, healthier eating habits.

          Natural & Organic Foods
          It is possible to find small natural foods stores in small towns all over Tuscany and Umbria. You can also find some organic products such as eggs, butter, noodles at the larger supermarkets. Usually they are grouped together and labeled "Bio".

          Un Punto Macrobiotico  - There are several of these macrobiotic/natural food restaurants combined with small specialty food stores throughout Umbria and Tuscany. A great resource to look for the location and addresses of such places is Happy Cow. (Also see Happy Cow Europe and Biobank).

          Vegetarian Eating

          Eating Raw, Vegan & Vegetarian in Italy

          Decoding Italian Hand Gestures

          Like many foreigners, our first experience with Italian gestures was in the movies. It was only until after our first couple of visits that we realized that hand gestures were not only stereotypically popular among Italians in Hollywood movies but also somewhat of a cultural phenomenon in Italy. Indeed, Italians have hand gestures down to a science and are capable of communicating many thoughts with a simple flick of a finger or raising of a hand.

          An example of some of the many Italian gestures is explicitly illustrated in the Illustrated Guide to Italian Popular Gestures by Alfredo Cassano. In total there are about 70 hand gestures that are commonly used throughout Italy.

          ****explicit language used in this picture so please enlarge at your own discretion****


          At it's most literal, an Agriturismo is the combination of two Italian words - Agriculture + Tourism. In 1985, to encourage the growth and continuation of small farms throughout Italy, the Italian government helped small farmers to augment their incomes by allowing farmers, by law, to transform part of their property into a resort where vacationers could stay.  Since it's inception, it has become a growing niche of the tourist industry in Italy that offers visitors a place to stay (typically on a weekly basis, though some offer nightly) on a farmhouse far away from the hustle and bustle of the big cities.

          Many of the Agriturismi (plural form of Agriturismo) provide luxury amenities which might include a swimming pool, restaurant or both. Some Agriturismo even offer services and amenities that are on par with high-end hotels that one finds in the bigger cities.

          Typically, an Agriturismo offers raw foods that are organically grown on their property and later used in dishes served to their guests. Most Agriturismi have swimming pools though the sizes of these pools vary. Some Agriturismo make every effort to be "green" or "echo-friendly" in their use of materials, foods and even pools (some use salt water instead of chlorine). Many Agriturismi offer other services and amenities such as cooking lessons, catered meals, tours, car service or grocery shopping for an additional fee. The owners wear many hats and often run the place as staff, chef, tour guide, concierge or driver. The owners are often pleasant and give their guests an insider's insight into the history and culture of the town they live in.

          Agriturismo resources
          Altabella Properties is only one example of an Agriturismo and is a property that we hold in very high regard and would recommend to anyone wishing to stay in central Italy. To learn more about Altabella Properties please visit our section on Altabella: A Slice of Tuscumbrian Paradise.

          Here are some other useful Agriturismo resourced:

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