Truffles in Italy: A Foodie’s Guide to This Italian Delicacy
Are you a fan of truffles in Italy? Most foodies either love them or not. No matter which group you fall in, there’s no denying they’re one of Italy’s most prized foods.
A country renowned for its food, Italy produces countless unique foods and wines in 20 regions — from cheese, bread, and cured meats to olive oil and balsamic vinegar, to name just a few, Italy is also known for something very special — delectable Italian truffles.
Truffles are edible fungi or tubers that grow underground. They’re similar to mushrooms in that they are a form of fungi, but not exactly the same. Mushrooms actually grow above the ground. Truffles are considered a delicacy all around the world, and, luckily, truffles in Italy are plentiful and world famous for their exquisite flavor.
If you’re looking to learn more about these exquisite Italian morsels, this article should cover most of what you need to know. The rest is up to you to tour and taste!
Truffles in Italy
It’s worth pointing out that Italy is not the only place in the world where truffles are grown. France is another premier truffle region and home to the Black Diamond truffles of Perigord, the most famous black truffle in the world.
Other countries where you can find truffles being grown include Australia, China, Netherlands, Poland, Spain, Iran, United Kingdom, Canada, and the USA. In fact, the Pacific Northwest is quite the producer, and it’s easy to understand given its moist rainforest environment.
You might think truffles are the same not matter where they’re grown, but there are actually dozens of different types of truffles. Black truffles and white truffles are the two truffles found in Italy, but only a few varieties are actually used in the culinary world.
Black Italian truffles have a bumpy, dark skin and a semi-strong earthy flavor. The Italian white truffle, on the other hand, has a yellowish skin and a more intense flavor. White truffles are also much rarer and harder to find than black truffles.
Why Are Truffles So Expensive?
You may have seen pictures of truffles but have you seen the prices they’re asking fir them? There are a few reasons that Italian truffles are so expensive.
First of all, they’re hard to find, and can only be found with the help of a truffle dog. Once upon a time, pigs were used to sniff out these underground delicacies.
Pigs love truffles just as much as humans do, so that wasn’t the most effective truffle-hunting method as they would often gobble them up. What’s more, in the process of finding them they would really tear up the ground. For this reason, the use of pigs is now prohibited in the practice of truffle hunting in Italy.
Today, truffle hunters use dogs instead of pigs to sniff out truffles. But not just any dog can take up this difficult task. Rather, truffle hunting dogs have to be trained starting while still nursing as puppies to be able to successfully sniff out this flavorful food. As a plus, this scent-driven activity is a lot more fun with dogs than it was with pigs.
The second reason that truffles are so expensive is because it’s surprisingly difficult to cultivate truffles. In the wild, they need certain weather conditions and temperatures, and are found next to oak, pine, or hazelnut trees.
Truffles are especially finicky to cultivate on your own. For example, no one has ever successfully grown the Alba white truffle outside of the ground.
Unfortunately, certain types of truffles cannot be stored. This means that you can only enjoy them when they are in season, usually for only two or three months of the year.
Considering all of these factors, you can see why truffles are one of the priciest food items in the world. Case in point: the white winter truffles (also known as Alba white truffles) can cost up to $10,000 per pound!
Truffle Hunting in Italy
So how and where do you find truffles? There is actually a specific breed of dog used for truffle hunting in Italy. Known as “truffle dogs” or “truffle hunting dogs”, there is one breed of fog that’s better at truffle hunting than other dogs.
The most popular breed for the job is the Lagotto Romagnolo, thanks to their finely tuned noses. These medium-sized dogs begin “scent training” starting shortly after birth. As a matter of fact, there’s even a special truffle dog university, Universita' dei cani da Tartufo, where they are trained. Smart dog!
When the dogs are trained and finally ready to field trial, their owners will take them to closely guarded prime truffle hunting spots in open forests of oak, pine, or hazelnut trees to find these tasty gems.
Truffle hunting is one of the most unique things to do in Italy, and if you’d like to experience it, you can book a truffle hunting tour. A few of the most popular truffle tours in the country are run by Wild Foods Italy, Truffle in Tuscany, and Giulio The Truffle Hunter. These tours can run from half a day to an entire week.
Think you’d like to get into truffle hunting on your own? Start saving. A well-bred truffle hunting dog can cost upwards of $5000.
Popular Truffle Dishes
So you’ve gone hunting and found a few morsels. Or maybe you’d prefer to head straight to a restaurant and dive in.
If you’re wondering “what do truffles taste like”, the short answer is “like nothing you’ve ever tasted before” — it’s actually a hard taste to describe.
The somewhat strong earthy taste of truffles can be an acquired taste, but not always. To me, they taste like a cross between a mushroom and a garlic clove! The aroma is pervasive no matter how they are prepared.
A little truffle makes any pasta dish sing, but it also goes a long way! If there’s too much, the flavor can easily overpower the other flavors in a dish. For those of us who enjoy truffles, it’s truly a long lasting love affair.
Dining at a restaurant that serves truffle dishes is a great experience. You’ll smell the aroma right away and have no doubt what’s on the menu.
Be aware that during truffle season, many restaurants add shaved truffles and charge by the kilo. When we visited the Christmas market in Bolzano, restaurants there all offered the option of shaved truffles on their pasta for the going rate of $24 USD per kilo. Expensive, but oh so tasty!
Carpaccio with White Truffle
One of the most unique dishes made with Italian truffles is carpaccio with white truffles. This dish of uncooked beef steak, rocket (arugula) salad, pine nuts, shaved parmesan cheese, and white truffle flakes is a traditional Tuscan recipe. It’s one of the best ways to taste the prized white truffle.
Fettuccine with Truffle
Italian truffles are often served in pasta dishes. Sometimes the truffles are made into a sauce, and other times they’re shaved on top. Regardless, truffle pasta is always delicious.
One of the most popular pastas that is paired with truffles is fettuccine or sometimes spaghetti. And the recipe is quite simple. Whip up a cream-based sauce with loads of Parmagiano-Reggiano cheese, toss it with some al dente fettuccine, and top it off with just a few shavings of black or white truffles. That’s it! Simple but so delicious.
As a side note, many Italian pastas can be made with truffles in a similar manner. This recipe (or a variation) can be used with tagliatelle, pici, bucatini, or even ravioli.
Black Truffle Risotto
Other than pasta, risotto is another Italian dish that can be spiced up with truffles. Black truffle risotto, also called risotto al tartufo nero, is made with arborio rice, white wine, onion, and of course black truffles.
Gnocchi with Truffle
Gnocchi with truffle is another fantastic Italian truffle dish. The gnocchi is made with flour and potatoes, and is combined with a creamy truffle sauce.
While many fancy restaurants serve up gnocchi with truffle, the famous restaurant Amerigo 1934 arguably makes the best version. This Michelin star restaurant pairs the gnocchi and the truffle in a way that creates an absolutely fantastic dish.
Scrambled Eggs with Truffle
So far on this list of Italian truffle dishes, I’ve included dishes that are great for lunch and dinner. But Italians occasionally eat truffles for breakfast as well. And the recipe is simple. Just make scrambled eggs as you regularly would and scatter some truffle shavings on top! You can use either white truffles or black truffles for this dish.
The Best Regions to Find Truffles in Italy
The city of Alba in Piedmont is widely known for its Italian truffles. More specifically, it is known for the rare Alba white truffles, and they celebrate these tasty morsels every year at the Alba International White Truffle Fair, one of Italy’s most famous food festivals. This delicacy is used to make many Piedmont truffle dishes. The most popular is tajarin al tartufo, a variation of tagliatelle with truffle.
While this area is most well-known for the Alba white truffles, you can also find a few black truffle types, including the nero pregiato, the brumale, and the scorzone varieties.
As an added bonus, Alba also hosts the International White Truffle Fair of Alba every year.
Tuscany is a region of Italy with prime growing conditions for truffles. There are actually six sections throughout Tuscany that are known for their fantastic truffles.
There are four different types of Italian truffles that grow in Tuscany: the tartufo bianco pregiato, the tartufo marzuolo, the tartuffo nero pregiato, and the tartufo scorzone. You can try all of these varieties at Tuscany’s annual San Miniato Truffle Fair.
Many Italians would argue that Emilia Romagna is the best region to find Italian truffles. This is because you can find truffles in nearly every province in Emilia Romagna. Since truffles are (slightly) easier to find in Emilia Romagna, truffle hunting is certainly one the best things a foodie can do in Bologna. Why not book a tour and have the full farm-to-table experience?
While areas like Alba and Tuscany are known for their truffles, most people don’t realize that 40% of Italian truffles are actually grown and found in the Abruzzo region. This includes both white truffle and black truffle varieties.
There are actually about 2,000 black truffle farms in Abruzzo. As a matter of fact, you can visit a few of these farms to learn everything you’d like to know about truffles.
Abruzzo’s next door neighbor is Molise, another region that is responsible for a large chunk of Italian truffles. Approximately 20% of Italian truffles are found in Molise. Like Abruzzo, Molise boasts both white truffle and black truffle varieties.
Thanks to the abundance of truffles in Molise, you can find just about any truffle product that you have in mind, including truffle oil, truffle salt, and even truffle sauce.
The province of Bologna is home to the little commune of Savigno. As you drive into this small town, you’ll pass a sign that says it’s the “City of Truffles”', so you know you’re in the right place!
There are a couple of reasons that Savigno is a noteworthy Italian truffle spot. First of all, this little town hosts the amazing Tartofla Savigno Truffle Festival every November. While there, you can get all of the truffle goodies that truffle dreams are made of.
Second, Savigno is home to one of the best truffle-inspired restaurants in the country, the Michelin Star restaurant Amerigo 1934. While there, you can order everything from bianco Modenese carpaccio with black summer truffle to potato gnocchi with scorzone truffle to Apennine fallow deer leg with truffle.
Annual Truffle Festivals in Italy
International White Truffle Fair of Alba
The International White Truffle Fair of Alba may be the most well-known truffle festival in Italy. Every October and November, this event showcases the best of all things truffle-related.
The best part of the International White Truffle Fair of Alba is the White Truffle Market. This section is where you can learn everything about white Italian truffles. You’ll even be able to sample or purchase these treasured treats, if you’d like.
In addition to the White Truffle Market, the International White Truffle Fair also boasts sections with truffle wine pairings, chef demonstrations, and even a truffle booth specifically for children.
National White Truffle Fair
The little town of Acqualanga in the province of Le Marche has a whopping three truffle festivals throughout the year. The first one is the Regional Black Truffle Fair, which takes place in February. Then, July has the Black Summer Truffle Fair. But October brings the best of the three: the National White Truffle Fair.
Like the International White Truffle Fair of Alba, the National White Truffle Fair of Acqualanga boasts a section specifically dedicated to selling these rare white truffles. This Piazza Enrico Mattei section is undoubtedly the most popular part of the fair.
In addition to truffles, you can also purchase loads of truffle products. Truffle butters, truffle cheese, truffle oils, and truffle sauces are just the start!
Tartofla Savigno Truffle Festival
The Tartofla Savigno Truffle Festival, also known as the International White Truffle Festival, is another fantastic truffle-centric event to experience. Situated in the little town of Savigno, the aforementioned “city of truffles,” you know this festival is going to be amazing.
As you stroll through this festival, you’ll find vendors selling individual black truffles and white truffles. If those are a bit out of your budget, you can buy truffle oil or truffle dishes instead.
While Tartofla Savigno Truffle Festival certainly revolves around truffles, that’s not the only thing you’ll find at this event. You’ll also be able to enjoy loads of hot chocolate and mulled wine to keep your warm during this November festival.
After wandering around the Tartofla Savigno Truffle Festival, we highly recommend reserving a spot at Amerigo 1934 for a Michelin-starred, truffle-filled meal.
San Miniato National White Truffle Market
The San Miniato National White Truffle Market is the most well-known truffle festival in Tuscany – and that’s saying something, because there are several Tuscan festivals that revolve around Italian truffles.
Other than the rare white truffles, one of the greatest appeals of the San Miniato National White Truffle Market is the setting. The little town of San Miniato boasts medieval roots, beautiful architecture, and thriving greenery. And when you add the tasty truffle dishes of the San Miniato National White Truffle Market into the mix, what more could you ask for?
Tignale Truffle Festival
While Tignale isn’t one of the most famous Italian truffle spots, it has one of the coolest truffle festivals. Most Italian truffle festivals focus on the buying and selling of truffles, but the Tignale Truffle Festival emphasizes eating truffles.
During this fall festival, most of the nearby Tignale restaurants serve up truffle-based menus. This means that you’ll have loads of different truffle dishes that you simply have to try!
If you want to try the taste of truffles without any outside flavors, the Tignale Truffle Festival also offers truffle tastings. And if you’d like the full truffle experience, you can learn everything you’d like to know about truffle hunting from local experts.
The Tignale Truffle Festival is definitely a hidden gem for Italian truffles.
Try Italian truffles. With the number of regions in Italy producing truffles and the number of restaurants serving both traditional and creative truffle dishes, it’s easy enough to introduce your palate to the exotic taste of truffles. Whether you try black or white, you’ll know immediately if they’re for you. This is one Italian delicacy that’s a must try.