From Cortona, we traveled west, via Radda in Chianti, to Siena, where we settled down for 3 days to check the place out again. We first visited Siena in 2004 during our bike trip in Tuscany, and totally dug it. We’ll post separately on Siena, but during our stay there, we took a little field trip to the northwest to Torciano winery. Not for wine. For truffles.
It turned out that there were two compelling reasons to visit Italy when we did in October 2021: the first was the pandemic-level paucity of people in Cinque Terre, which drove us to travel there so soon after our South of France road trip just a month earlier. Totally worth it. The second reason, it turned out, was that it was truffle season in Tuscany.
So, one of the things we wanted to do was to go truffle hunting. Which brought us to Torciano. The winery, which has been owned by the same family for 13 generations, had cultivated truffles in an oak forest nearby, so you could go truffle hunting in the right season with a good likelihood of actually finding them.
When we arrived, we soon learned that they were also hosting a Ferrari event, so there were freakin’ Ferraris all over the place.
After winding our way through the sports cars, we headed over to the family patriarch (or old uncle, at least) for a quick lesson on truffles.
We would be hunting for black truffles, which are the only variety that can be cultivated in oak tree roots.
In France, they hunt truffles with pigs. In Italy, it’s dogs, and they’re trained from birth for the job.
Competition for valuable truffles in Italy has actually become dangerous recently. A January 14 New York Times article, reports of competing truffle hunters in Italy resorting to setting out poisoned treats in oak forests to kill their rival’s truffle hunting dogs. Freakin’ crazy.
Out on the hunt.
A potential target.
Yup – smells truffley.
Lisa actually found two black truffles on our hunt:
But there was still opportunity for more.
After a grueling day of pungent mushroom hunting, some sustenance back at the winery.
All featuring black truffles. As an aside, black truffles are sauteed to optimize their taste, releasing their distinctive flavor and scent, while the much more rare white truffles are sliced directly onto food without any treatment to maximize their flavor. We only just learned this on this trip.
(Several years ago, we dined at Fish, Jose Andres’ restaurant in National Harbor, specifically for a celebration of the availability of black truffles since they were in season in the chef’s home country of Spain. There, they sliced black truffles directly onto the dishes and we were really underwhelmed and disappointed. Now we know why. Fish subsequently closed. Maybe deservedly so.)
Equally important to the experience were the Tuscan red wines, including Brunello from Montalcino, where the family has some of their vineyards. Totally lived up to the hype. We think? we had Brunello in Montalcino from our bike trip, but weren’t sure. We definitely dug it here though.
The evening before in Siena, we headed out for what we intended to be a casual dinner of pizza some place indoors, since the town was freakin’ freezing, just like Cortona. In our quest, we stumbled on this place:
Where they were featuring a prix fixe dinner designed around white truffles. So, a little change in plans after we confirmed with the door dude that we were suitably attired to eat there.
Every dish was designed to highlight white truffles.
They’d first serve the simple dish. . .
Then place a scale on the table, weigh the raw white truffle, shave shave shave, then weigh the truffle again to quantify your take.
We might have gone a little overboard on one of the dishes.
Freakin’ awesome experience. When we showed the pasta and egg dishes to our truffle guide, he responded approvingly that that was how you feature the delicate white truffle.
Next up: Siena itself.