On our fifth day in Italy, we had what will most likely be a once-in-a-lifetime experience. We were staying in Alba, in the Piedmont region of Italy, and went “hunting” for Alba white truffles with a hunter and his truffle-hunting dog, Lara.
Truffles come in two varieties: black and white. The Alba white truffles are the most aromatic of all truffles, so they are highly prized and very costly. They also have a very short shelf life and do not travel especially well, so they are difficult to acquire outside of Piedmont.
Truffle hunting is a competitive business. Each “hunter” has his secret spots that he checks every other day. These locations are passed down through families and friends, and must be kept private so that other hunters don’t learn about them. In the past, some hunters have been so competitive, they have left poisoned dog treats in the area to kill the other hunter’s dog.
Because of this, we obviously didn’t go to one of the hunter’s regular truffle spots. Instead, we met him in a field where he had buried 3 truffles himself for Lara to find. Did I mention it was rainy and sloppy, so we put bags over our shoes?
I have never seen a dog so happy and excited, even in the rain. As our guide told us, dogs love having a job to do, and the dogs are trained to look at truffle hunting as both a game and a job. After each truffle, the dog gets a special treat, both to keep them from eating the truffles and to give them incentive to find more.
In addition to our “hunting” excursion, we were lucky enough to experience freshly shaved Alba white truffles over egg pasta one night in Italy. Just as our guide has told us it would be, eating truffles was a sensory experience. The aroma and the taste meld into a nearly indescribable feeling.
Unfortunately, we couldn’t bring any home with us, as they wouldn’t last very long. Instead, we came home with white truffle oil. While it is artificially flavored, it still provides that aroma and flavor that we experienced back in Alba. I can’t wait to eat it over eggs, in risotto or on fresh bread!
Have you had any once-in-a-lifetime experiences?
And on an unrelated note, don’t forget to enter the Mighty Leaf Tea Giveaway–I’ll choose a winner tomorrow!