For the past five years, ever since we bought our property in Umbria, we had truffle hunting on our “to do” list but just never managed to get to it until this summer. We love Umbrian truffles, and buy them often during our stay in Umbria. This year, although the summer black truffles are plentiful, everyone has complained that they seemed to be milder than other years.
The general consensus for this seems to be the very rainy winter and spring. There are a variety of different types of truffles harvested here in Umbria throughout the year (see chart below), but we would be hunting the summer black truffle. Though milder this year, they are still quite delicious and we were excited to finally experience an authentic truffle harvest.
My husband discovered Francesca and Nathan, the owners of Wild Foods on Facebook, and we contacted them to arrange a day of truffle hunting close to their mountain top village of Pettino. This small ancient village is composed of three small hamlets and apart from a few people, all are related to each other.
The villagers keep the land around Pettino just the way their ancestors did, growing mountain cereals such as farro and lentils, as well as crops to feed the animals. Sheep, cattle, and goats are kept in barns, or are left to roam the fertile pastures. From the lush natural forests surrounding the village, they gather truffles, porcini mushrooms, and wood used for heating, grilling, as well as for the communal pizza oven.
Once we finally scheduled our day with Wild Foods, Nathan picked us up at our farmhouse and took us back to Pettino, about an hour or so away. The hamlet where he lives with Francesca and their family is very rustic and authentically Umbrian, with dogs lying all over the grass, and sheep penned in a neighboring yard.
There, we met the other two couples who were sharing our adventure with us, along with Luca, a cousin of Francesca, who was our truffle guide. Although Pettino is situated over 1,000 meters up, we divided up into two cars and headed up even higher to where the villagers hunt for truffles. Luca had three mixed breed dogs along with him who he had vigorously trained to hunt for truffles, and we soon found out just how experienced and talented they really were.
Once we arrived at the designated spot our truffle adventure was to start, Nathan gave us a quick history of the village, the forests, and a history of truffle hunting. We then followed Luca and his three dogs as they scampered through the forest scenting and digging up summer truffles along the way.
The small village of Pettino, located 1,074 meters above sea level. It is the highest hamlet within the town of Campello sul Clitunno situated on the western slope Mount Serano and has less than 100 inhabitants, some just seasonal.
After driving up higher on the mountain, we all follow Luca and his three talented dogs in search of the prized black truffles.
One of the dogs scents a truffle, but it is too large for him to dig out on his own so Luca must use his pick (size must be approved) to remove the truffle. The smaller truffles the dogs dig out themselves and then bring back to Luca in order to get a treat.
Two large truffles discovered by the dogs.
After each successful find, the dogs return to Luca to give him their treasures and to get their reward.
Luca giving the dogs some added advice.
The largest single truffle harvested that morning. Though bigger is not always better, it truly was an amazing specimen!
After Luca decided we had enough truffles that morning, he headed even higher up the mountain off road and stopped at spot that overlooked much of Umbria, including the entire Spoleto valley to Montefalco, Assisi and Perugia to the east, and across the highest ridges of the Appenines to the west.
While we admired the views, Nathan poured Prosecco and cut up cheese made on his farm for us to celebrate a successful harvest.
Luca removing the truffles to show us. Truffles are kept in one pocket of his vest while rewards for the dogs are kept in the other one.
About 1 kilo of summer truffles.
Luca scrambling eggs right in the field to serve topped with the truffles they just harvested.
Shaving the VERY fresh truffles on top of the eggs. They were delicious!
After our “snack” on the mountain top, we headed back to Pettino and followed “Nonna”, Francesca’s Mother into the pasta room and watched her make pasta for our lunch. She was helped along by Nathan’s son Dante, and overseen by the elder Dante, Francesca’s father.
The second batch of pasta being prepared. While Nonna worked away, we enjoyed local wine, homemade capocollo, and sampled bruschetta. One bruschetta topped with their own olive oil, while the other was topped with their pecorino cheese melted, then shaved truffles were added.
Nathan took us on a short tour of the hamlet to see the communal pizza oven, his art studio, and the cheese room where they make and store the cheese made from their sheep.
On a beautiful afternoon, we dined “al fresco” under the trees with some of Francesca’s family.
Nonna’s pasta topped with fresh tomato sauce, pine nuts, and Ricotta Salata cheese. Just one of many courses we enjoyed during our long lunch! It was a truly memorable meal that was authentically Umbrian.
After lunch, Nathan took us to see the Maremma sheep dog puppies. Their dog had 12 puppies in her first litter and they were still trying to find homes for 3 of them. Though I loved the sweet puppies, I realized they grew to somewhere between 70 and 100 pounds which just wasn’t practical for traveling back and forth between North America and Italy every 6 months. Sigh…….
We ended up getting back home around 6pm so it was indeed a full day, but one I’d certainly recommend for anyone who wanted to experience an authentic truffle harvest and spend time immersed with “real” local Italians. Both Francesca and Nathan speak English, though being originally from New Zealand Nathan is the one to ask for if you speak no Italian. It was a full day, but one we will always remember fondly, even though I didn’t get to bring home one of those sweet puppies!
Ph- (+39) 333 498-5387
From Their Website:
Where: Umbria, Italy
How Much: 100 euros per person
How to Book: We don’t take a booking fee, we just pencil you in for the day and you can pay on the day
Suitable For: All
Transport: Is included from Montefalco, Bevagna, Assisi, Spoleto, Spello, Todi and other nearby towns. Is not included from Orvieto and the north side of Perugia. Please let us know where you are staying and we will let you know if we can provide transport or not
Languages Spoken: Italian, English
Please note: We walk in the countryside so you need shoes suitable for that (runners are ok). If you are unable to walk on uneven terrain please let us know in advance. If you have any dietary requirements (e.g. vegetarian, allergies) please let us know when you book. If we have bad weather we will be in touch to make sure you are still up for it!
Additional Information on Truffle Hunting for your Information!
Exam Subjects One Must Learn To Obtain a License to Harvest Truffles in Umbria
• Techniques for harvesting truffles and improvement of truffle grounds
• Current national and regional regulations
• Biology and recognition of the various species of truffles
Harvesting periods for various types of truffles in Umbria
• From the last Sunday of September until 31 December: Tuber magnatum Pico, common name: white truffle (tartufo bianco)
• From 1 December to 15 March: Tuber melanosporum Vitt., common name: common name: prized black truffle (tartufo nero pregiato)
• From 1 December to 15 March: Tuber brumale var. moschatum De Ferry, common name: musk brumale (tartufo moscato)
• From last Sunday of May until 31 August: Tuber aestivum Vitt., common name: summer truffle
• From 1 October to 31 January: Tuber uncinatum Chatin, common name uncinatum truffle (tartufo uncinato)
• From 1 January to 15 March: Tuber brumale Vitt., common name: winter black truffle (tartufo nero d’ inverno or trifola nera) or brumale
• From 15 January to 15 April: Tuber borchii Vitt., or Tuber albidum Pico, common name blanquette truffle (bianchetto) or March truffle (marzuolo) or, for both of them, Tuscan truffle
• From 1 October to 31 December: Tuber macrosporum Vitt., common name: winter or smooth black truffle (tartufo nero liscio = smooth black truffle)
• From 1 November to 15 March: Tuber mesentericum Vitt., common name: common black truffle (nero ordinario)