Gastronomically, November means several things in Italy: game, chestnuts, olive oil and truffles. The countryside around our house is full of grappa heartened hunters taking pot shots at anything that moves, while chestnuts and olives both involve some labour intensive (and lets face it, tedious) preparation. So for me, truffles are the highlight of the month.
I love their aroma, rather memorably described by New Zealand truffle expert Gareth Renowden (www.limestonehills.co.nz) as reminiscent of ‘old socks and sex’; I think there is also a tang of garlic mingled with the heady whiff of feral fungi. White truffles are high maintenance mushrooms: they have a short season when they’re ripe, they don’t like being commercially cultivated and go off rather quickly – and all these factors make them expensive. You won’t find them in the supermarkets.
So getting hold of some decent specimens is a food-lovers excuse to don their Indiana Jones hat and set off on an adventure: go on a truffle-hunting weekend or track down a reputable supplier (www.trufflehunter.co.uk). And there is no better way to experience Italians’ love of food than to visit one of the truffle fairs that take place during winter. Alba (www.fieradeltartufo.org) and Acqualagna (www.comune.acqualagna.ps.it) are the famous ones, but small towns like Cingoli and Montefortino in Le Marche also have them.
Take your treasure home with you, and without further ado gather a select few of your truffle-loving friends round for some tagliatelle: just toss plenty of butter and grated Parmesan in with the pasta before grating the truffle over each serving. It will be heaven on a plate.
Vicky Bennison (www.vickybennison.com) writes about the food, people and producers of Spain, Greece and now Italy, where she has a home. Her most recent book is Seasonal Spanish Food, co-authored with Jose Pizarro, and she has written 3 books in The Taste of a Place series. (www.thetasteofaplace.com)