Truffles are a top Italian fall culinary item and are celebrated with truffle fairs and festivals in central and northern Italy. Going to a truffle fair is a must for foodies visiting Italy.
Of course visiting the fair is worthwhile even if you don't want to buy truffles. The scent of fresh truffles fills the air and there are locally made truffle dishes to try (usually for much less than you'd pay in a restaurant). There's often entertainment and concession stands that sell local foods such as cheese, salami, honey, and wine.
Truffles are found primarily in the regions of Piedmont, Molise, Tuscany, Umbria, Emilia Romagna, and Le Marche. During October and November, there are many white truffle fairs held in these regions. The San Miniato Truffle Fair, La Sagra del Tartufo Bianco, is held in the medieval hill town of San Miniato on in November. About 25% of Italy's white truffles are produced in this territory and November is the heart of truffle gathering season. If you haven't had truffles, this is a great place to get an introduction.
Hunting truffles is a passion. The illusive fungi grows underground, close to the roots of oak, hazel, poplar and beech trees, and is only found in a handful of places around the world. It's this rarity that makes it so prized. The San Miniato Hills, with their mild Tuscan climate and soil rich in mineral salts, are the perfect breeding ground for top-quality truffles -- as well as the wine and olive oil for which the region is famous.
Because it is impossible to reproduce, truffles are one of the world's most expensive foods, and the Italian white is the most valuable of all, with a market price of up to $2,200 a pound.
So how do you find these nuggets of gold? Hunters guess at where the year's harvest might be found by judging the weather, the earth and the plants. Traditionally pigs were used to forage for the prized truffles; however their use is banned in Italy because their rooting damages the truffles' delicate mycelia, necessary for the fungi's reproduction. Today’s hunters rely on highly trained, fungi hunting canine friends to locate the earthy delicacy.
Tuscany has so much to offer the culinary explorer, whether it's going on a truffle hunt, picking and pressing olives or learning to make fresh pasta, you are sure to be delighted with the magic of Tuscany.