Ornella talks about the
mystery of truffles...
every aspect of the truffle-its origins, its perfume, its effects, and
especially its hunt. The fact that I know a truffle hunter doesn't help:
it only deepens the mystery. Giuseppe, an experienced 'trifolau,' is a
family friend. He believed that my grandfather's vinyard, which once produced
the best Barbera wine in the region, was the perfect place to try a new
technique for cultivating the white truffle.
The land had not been worked since my grandfather's death, and a tangle
of young chestnuts and blackberry bushes had displaced the grape vines.
My father gave Giuseppe permission to clear the land and plant a variety
of trees conducive to the growth of the precious fungus. In return, Giuseppe
presented us every now and again with a white truffle, but it was never
very clear whether the plantation was successful or how many truffles the
old vinyard had produced.
Every summer I go to Mombaruzzo, and Giuseppe and I meet briefly when he
comes to pay the symbolic rent for our land. Each time I ask him how the
truffle season was, and each time he has a pessimistic reply: This year
it didn't rain at the right time... I have a new dog that needs training...
Some vandal has damaged the trees... An injury prevented me...
But last summer something different happened. For the first time, Giuseppe
came to the house in a mood to talk. "Nothing is guaranteed when you cultivate
truffles," he said. "Only one thing is sure--they taste and smell exactly
like the wild ones." I asked him about his dog and how he trains him. "I
first bury fragments of truffles and have him find them, then I give him
bread that has absorbed the truffle smells. I don't use pigs, they eat
"And when is a good time to go hunting?" I asked.
"At night. They say it's because there are no more smells of people and
work, when everything becomes quiet, and the scents of the earth can rise...
but the truth is that it is more difficult at night to spy the hunter and
I asked him about storing the truffles and he told a story: "One night
I came home from truffle hunting very late. I was very tired and, without
thinking, I stored a cardboard box containing three truffles in the refrigerator.
The next morning all the food had absorbed the aroma, even the eggs in
the shell. You can't imagine how awful truffle-flavored milk can be! But
I didn't throw the eggs away. My wife used them for an impromptu zabaglione
that night, which was absolutely delicious with some frollini cookies she
It didn't take me long to try out a recipe, and I have to agree: it's outstanding.
And of course you can save your truffle for later use: