Truffles are undoubtedly becoming the ‘in’ food for 2017. That’s my prediction. Fans are developing everywhere but especially in Kolkata which seems to have more devoted foodies following the latest food trends and genuine gourmets than anywhere else in India. For vegetarians it represents a caviar of sorts – a delectable exotic tasting condiment which represents the high life. Truffles have been made famous by the French and by the northern Italians from Alba where the most expensive white ones come from. I thought Tuscany was full of Renaissance magic, rolling hills and olive groves. I hadn’t heard about the all year round crop of truffles. They differ from season to season in size and intensity but they are 100% the real deal. So here’s a collage of 4 days l spent in Tuscany, learning about the tuber, tasting truffle products and discovering the best wine and local food as we went along.
December is the end of the season for brown autumn truffle and the beginning of the much more aromatic black winter truffle. They grow in the wild Tuscan forests all year round except for a short period in late spring. The truffle season in Northern Italy and France is normally restricted from October to Feb. This makes them an attractive proposition for chefs the world over.
In the country-side between Arezzo and Cortona, south of Florence, truffles are collected by hundreds of hunters. Here is Mr. Paolini and his dogs Vespa and Bionda who he has trained to sniff them out. They grow and attach themselves to roots of the oak and pine trees in this area. Mr. Paolini has been hunting since 1978 and at the age of 82 is still going strong. He sells his truffles to Silvia Landucci who runs a family business called Boscovivo. Her family were one of the first to develop interesting products around truffle which allows them to be used in various dishes. This means that we can all enjoy the heady irresistible aroma and flavour of truffle at a much more affordable price. www.boscovivo.it
We experimented with truffle oil drizzled on croutons; truffle salt is amazing when tossed with French fries; tartufata salsa made with truffle oil and black olives, is amazing on poached eggs. Boscovivo produces the best truffle honey I have ever tasted. This is a fantastic accompaniment to cheese… and truffle carpaccio which are slices of truffle in olive oil and is excellent with toasted bread. Creative chefs in India have started stuffing kulchas with truffle and truffle oil and even adding them to edamame in dimsums!
Our friend Silvio shaving truffles over Granagno pasta for Christmas lunch
Il Falconiere is a Relais and Chateau property set among cypress trees, vineyards and olive groves. Even in the thick of winter, it is pretty picture perfect. They have award winning wines, impeccably designed rooms, a Michelin star restaurant presided over by the co-owner of the property Silvia Baracchi and a wine spa. Silvia conducts cookery classes called ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’ in the charming working kitchen which overlooks the wine towns of Montalcino and Montepulciano. The nearest town to the property is Cortona which was made famous by Frances Mayes in her book and subsequent film ‘Under the Tuscan Sun’. Frances is a great friend of the Baracchis and often pops into the property when she returns to her home in Cortona in spring. This is undoubtedly the best restaurant in the region. www.ilfalconiere.it
Baracchi wines, astounding in terms of quality and variety. Along with his son Benedetto Riccardo is putting Baracchi wines on the world map. The estate has been in his family since the mid 19th century. Wines to try are his outstanding Cabernet Sauvignon, his Brut Rose made with local sangiovese grapes and his 10 year old dessert wine Vin Santo.
Arrezo is a stunning Tuscan town, south of Florence and east of Sienna. Unlike other Tuscan towns which are full of American tourists, Arezzo has preserved its architecture, charm and tradition. It has in addition to a magnificent cathedral (where the film Life is Beautiful was shot), a central pedestrian walkway known as Corso Italia with extremely smart shopping. Arezzo is known for jewellery especially gold and cutting edge designs. Piazza Grande is the central square where a medieval tournament takes place in June. They also have a very famous antique market on the first Sunday of every month and a Christmas market in December.
Cantina Goretti is technically a winery in Umbria, just over the border from Tuscany. It’s a second generation family business that is worth talking about. They work with the local grechetto grapes for whites and sangiovese and local ciliegiolo for reds. They also conduct cookery classes and wine tastings and the young women in the family who run the business, all speak impeccable English. Worth trying is the L’Arringatore and their sparkling Chardonnay called Divinitus
In the province of Lazio in between Tuscany and Rome, near the wine town of Orvietto is a hill top village known as Tuscania. Rossano Boscolo started a culinary academy there known as Etoile in 1982 in what used to be an old monastery. Students learn Italian cuisine in all its forms and flavours. They also teach in English. Particularly impressive is the patisserie course. Etoile’s short term courses are certainly worth considering over Cordon Bleu and the surroundings are simply breathtaking. www.scuoladcucinaetoile.com
This is the real Tuscan dream – forget Florence, Sienna and Pisa if you’re looking for real products, real wine and real people….go south to Arezzo and its countryside.
Published as seen and written for The Telegraph India.