I recently spent some time exploring the Roman countryside to learn about Lazio’s culinary and cultural traditions. The day after I paid a visit to a 9th generation winery in the Castelli Romani, I ventured further outside my comfort zone and into the woods for a truly unique experience near Zagarolo. This town, built on a tuff hill and surrounded by forests, is located beside the Monte Scalambra woods which are an excellent place to hunt for one of Italy’s prime delicacies: truffles.
I had read stories about truffle hunting for years and was interested in finding out about this fascinating livelihood first-hand. I joined Matteo, a professional truffle hunter for eight years who curates 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 Piemonte. 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. Other countries are catching on to the truffle trend as well and they are being discovered throughout Eastern Europe, the UK, Australia and other countries with moderate climates in the southern hemisphere such as New Zealand, South Africa, Chile and Argentina.
Matteo leads truffle hunts in the countryside year-round and hosts exclusive truffle experiences in Rome during the summer months (more on those soon). 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 mozzarella di bufala, bruschetta and the tastiest roasted potatoes followed by a plate of pasta tossed with fresh ricotta and topped with truffles – a heavenly meal and one worth repeating over and over again. To book your own truffle experience with Matteo, and to enjoy his delicious home cooking, see the details below.