Acqualagna, along with Alba, are two Italian towns associated with truffles. As a highly appreciated delicacy truffles play important role in haute cuisine. Known from ancient times they have been eaten in a variety of traditional dishes throughout Europe. Due to its high price and restricted hunting regulations only selected restaurants serves dishes with truffles all year round.
The industry of Acqualagna – a small town where I stayed in – has been focused on truffles for almost 50 years. They made a huge effort to switch their production towards truffles and it is impressive today how many shops and restaurants sell high quality truffles. And what is even more impressive the conditions of Marche hills are so good they allow to grow all species of truffles! While I wish to visit Marche in December, when white truffles are collected, I still had amazing time there: I got invited for a truffle hunt! Giorgia and Laura from Marche Holiday made sure I won’t miss this opportunity and I am very happy I joined the hunt!
Dog vs pig
True: when I knew that I was going for a truffle hunt my mind produced a picture of a piglet on a leash. How silly of me! It’s the dog that hunts truffles nowadays. At least in Marche. My day started with a meeting in a downtown of Acqualagna where I had a look at the professional tools for digging the truffles. I was already impressed with highly specialized shops in such a small town! After all it’s ALL about TRUFFLES here!
I was collected by Paolo (guided truffle hunt by this guy can be booked here) – a very nice owner of a well trained dog and a truffle grove. Even my trip in old Fiat Panda was an adventure! Paolo was telling me the stories about truffles, dogs, regulations, activity of national association of restaurants that serve truffle dishes without chemicals (FITA), well pretty much everything with joyful excitement. His dog – Freccia – is a treasure!
Truffles can be collected in open state forests only for a short period throughout the year. It is allowed, however, to own a piece of land where you can ‘grow’ your own truffles. Season to collect truffles is also restricted but at least no one else will collect your truffles, which becomes a tough competition when time comes. Half of the local population has a certificate that allows them to collect and sell truffles legally. So try to imagine the local forest in autumn time!
When we arrived to a truffle grove the dog started too look for truffles at once! The smell of truffles is very particular but for man it is hard to detect. Especially when truffles grow deep down. Dogs, not surprisingly, are able to detect truffles that grow up to 1 meter underground! I think it is amazing! Freccia found 4 truffles and the moment he started to dig I felt the smell of truffle from a considerable distance! Incredible!
A truffle grove where Paolo took me and Giorgia was fabulous! A piece of land located on a steep hill with variety of trees, bushes, flowers and grass looked amazing. Paolo and all other owners of truffle groves are looking for a perfect combination of plants to support the truffles’ grow which is still a mystery. The view from this place was just like I have always imagined gentle hills of Chianti. If only for a walk it was still worthy to come here!
With sun, blue sky and few white clouds this was like a most beautiful picture. Walking around chatting with Paolo and watching Freccia looking for truffles was a very pleasant experience. I admired how well the dog has been trained: the moment he starts digging and hears an order ‘leave it’ he stops digging immediately. It’s all not to ruin the truffle which is more expensive if found unspoiled. Well, I was pretty sure a huge pig is much harder to control and much more lazy to dig. The dog seems to be the best choice for this job.
One thing astonished me: the dog eats parmiggiano reggiano for a prize. I guess he deserves it, after all.
When truffles are finally hunted you need to focus on cooking. Here is a story of a cooking lessons with famous Italian chef: Alberto Melagrana.
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