The Castelli Romani, a cluster of hilltop towns located just south of Rome, are full of unique cultural and culinary traditions. Set upon two volcanic lakes, the towns boast beautiful views and each one seems to be recognized for a delicacy: Frascati for its white wine, Nemi for its strawberries, Genzano for its bread and Castel Gandolfo, well, for the Pope’s magnificent summer residence and gardens. But did you know you could even go truffling hunting in the countryside? In less than an hour, you can leave the bustling city behind and immerse yourself in this ancient ritual.
I had read stories about truffle hunting for years and was interested in learning more about livelihood first-hand. A couple years ago I joined Matteo, a professional truffle hunter who hosts truffle experiences throughout Lazio, and his friendly dogs for a hike through the woods to sniff out this prized commodity. Matteo learned how to hunt for truffles from his father and exuded passion as he recounted this trade to me, from the necessary climactic conditions to grow this fruiting body to the regulations around truffle hunting in Italy and their relative abundance throughout the country.
Many of the myths I had about tartufi were quickly dispelled. Alba, for instance, has become synonymous with its Tartufo Bianco d’Alba but truffles grow more predominantly in central Italy and are largely hunted in Umbria and Lazio rather than Piedmont. Truffles are celebrated for their flavor and for their rarity – they can’t easily be cultivated and grow out of sight under the soil near beech and oak trees. It takes patience, experience and well trained canines to be a successful truffle hunter so their cost is largely justified by the intensive labor involved in the hunt.
I had long believed that truffles were a seasonal specialty and could only be found in the cooler months but Matteo explained that five truffle variants could be found throughout Italy depending on the season: there are three types of Black Truffles (Autumn, Summer and Winter varieties) and two types of White Truffles (White Truffles, which have a short window in the autumn months, and Spring White Truffle). Italy has a longstanding truffle hunting tradition thanks to its mild Mediterranean climate, and countries such as France, Spain and Croatia – which have similar terrains – are also blessed with a plethora of truffles. Many countries are catching on to the truffle trend and you can now find them across Eastern Europe, South Africa, Chile and Argentina.
Matteo hosts groups to go truffle hunting in the countryside year-round – depending on the season, you will either meet him in the Castelli Romani or near Bracciano Lake north of Rome (both are easily reached by train from Termini Station). After our walk in the woods, he treated our group to a delicious truffle-inspired lunch at his country home, an experience only enhanced by the company of his rambunctious father who shared his wisdom and despair about love, travel and truffles with us over a truly decadent meal. We enjoyed a mixed appetizer of tender buffalo-milk mozzarella, bruschetta topped with plump tomatoes and roasted potatoes followed by a bundle of thick and chewy tonnarelli noodles. Everything, of course, was topped with the freshly shaved truffles we had found earlier in the morning.
To book your own truffle experience with Matteo, and to enjoy his delicious home cooking, visit Matteo Truffles. You can also order specialty products, like truffle olive oil and truffle honey, in the online shop.