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When I started my retirement travels - the first of which was my solo overseas trip to Italy in 2009 - I wanted a way to share it with family and friends as it happened. Hence, "My Travel Journal". However I realized I wouldn't always be on a trip and wondered what to do with the blog in between times. My daughter pointed out, wisely, that travels can also include trips to the kitchen to try a new recipe, trips to visit family, trips to my neighborhood Starbucks, or a fun day trip with a friend. You're welcome to join me on any of these journeys!

P.S. I've set up separate pages for each of my major trips (see tabs above).

I recently added an "Italian Word a Day" thingie which shows up at the bottom of every page. You see the word and can click to hear it pronounced. I've been enjoying it and I think my accent is improving as time goes by.

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October 07, 2010

The Great Truffle Hunt, Part III - TRUFFLES!!!

Finally, we will talk truffles.  When we left Citerna, it was only about a 15 or 20 minute drive to Tartufi Bianconi, where Saverio and his wife, Gabriella (who was right there to greet us and is a delightful person - beautiful, happy smile both on her face and in her eyes), have their home and their truffle business.  I think most likely they have other places where they can hunt truffles because I'm not sure that where we were would provide enough truffles to make and sell all the products they have available.  Perhaps they also purchase truffles from other truffle hunters.  I didn't think to ask about any of that.

And before I forget, Tartufi Bianconi's website link is:  http://www.tartufibianconi.it/italiano/chi.html Note - the black text is in Italian, the red text is in English - fairly obvious, but it took me a minute to realize it. :)
And, Gabriella was kind enough to send me Cecelia's web address which is: www.valtiberinasface.com so if you think you'll be visiting Italy at some point in the future, you might want to save these for future reference. :)

I'm going to do little blurbs after each picture this time cause hopefully that will help me remember things.  It's been too long since the day of the hunt and even though I will always have wonderful memories of the day (and the FOOD!), they won't be as detailed as when they were fresh.

The first order of business was to weigh the truffles we brought back and as you can see we did all right.  I've read about hunting for truffles and it can happen that the hunter comes back empty-handed.

Gabriella had us smell our truffles and then opened up this napkin of white truffles - precious truffles, she calls them because they are the most expensive and according to truffle afficianados, the absolute peak of truffle taste and aroma.  Always when she speaks of them, she calls them precious which I loved to hear her say.  She had us smell those also and the difference was very noticeable - not nearly as strong and pungent (one COULD say stinky) as the black.  And see?  One thing I've already forgotten is if the precious whites are the summer whites or winter whites - there are summer and winter blacks (ours were summer) and there are summer and winter whites and only one is precious.

All this weighing and smelling was done in their "factory" area - a spotlessly clean group of rooms where they make their various truffle products - dried truffles, frozen truffles, truffle honey(!), truffle butter, truffle oil, truffle cream, truffle tartufata (like a pesto only with chopped up truffles and no basil), and then there is truffle instant polenta (and mashed potatoes!), truffle salt, truffle pasta...and I feel sure I'm probably forgetting some, but you get the idea - there's apparently nothing you can't do with a truffle, bless 'em.  Here's a picture of one of the areas in the "laboratory" and also a picture of their shipping area - their business is quite successful, I think.

Then we went back outside to go in the house and I stopped to get a better picture of Cecelia who was still with us, helping to explain everything.  I would think she'd be worn out by the end of the day, but later she left us to go out on a date. :)

Next, into the kitchen...a beautiful workroom.

Gabriella had some treats already prepared for us.  A truffle infused pecorino cheese (see - there's one I forgot) and a plain pecorino served with some truffle honey to put on the cheese.  The honey was acacia honey, very mild, and the combination was irresistible.  That was served with some Prosecco wine - let the good times begin!

After nibbling and sipping a bit, we went into their museum.  Saverio started collecting truffle related items any time he came across them and this jam-packed museum is the result.  On the wall behind Gabriella are the spades I mentioned earlier - all different and I think pretty much all hand made.

And still in the museum are trophies won - not by Tartufi Bianconi, not by truffles, but by truffle-hunting dogs which I think is quite appropriate.  They're the ones that find them...

This was our actual appetizer.  Four little pieces of toast, each one with a different truffle "something it.  And, again, I'm not going to be able to remember precisely what each was.  I know the lower left had one of the truffle products spread on the toast and then little shavings of the precious whites on it.  The upper dark one was some of the sliced frozen black truffles and sitting on the edge of the plate above it is a slice of fresh black truffle to compare the the taste - I pretty much thought they were both wonderful.  I think the bottom right might be the truffle and mushroom spread.  Whatever they all were, they all disappeared very happily.  And I'm thinking maybe the plain one just had the truffle oil on it.  And boy, is that truffle oil different from what I've tried in the States!  The smell is wonderful and you can actually taste truffle in it.

Oh, and I'm putting in this picture to let you see the wood-burning stove in action. We were all really surprised at this and Cecelia explained that it's fairly common in that area at least.  She said she had one also. Gabriella used her gas stove for sauteing the things she sauted and also baked her flans in the gas oven, and she used the cook top of the wood-burning stove for boiling water for the pasta and cooking the polenta.

Gabriella called what she made in these pans flan with cheese and truffle honey and I think they were probably what we would call mini-souffles.  I sure wish my battery  hadn't died and I could show you the finished product.  This picture is mainly to remind me that she used the silicone pans and those little bits of heaven popped right out when they were done.  It's difficult to rate everything we ate but I think for me this would be at the top.

Here's the cooked truffle infused polenta and without a picture of the finished dish, I can't for the life of me remember what she did with it.  It was something more than just plopping it on the plate!

Now for this, we all got to work at it.  These were chicken rolls - flattened chicken breasts, laid on a special type of bakeable, almost cellophane-type film which we salted and peppered first, then we spread the tartufata sauce on it, laid a piece of prosciutto on top of that, rolled it up real tight and those got boiled in a pot of water just before time to eat them.  And oh, my - another truly delicious one - served with just a drizzle of balsamic over them.  And I forgot to mention that we each received a recipe book with recipes for all the things we ate plus more and all featuring truffles.  So I may just be having a chicken roll party one of these times.

We also all got to try out hand at making this new to me pasta and it certainly was easier than making rolled out noodles!  She mixed together semolina and soft flour in the big pan, then beat up some eggs, took a little whisk made of wheat stalks, dipped it into the egg and sprinkled egg over the surface of the flour.  Did this several times...

and then it's all dumped into a sieve and shake, shake, shake until all the flour falls into the sheet below and the little bits of dough are left.  You dump these out and keep doing this until you have enough.  Gabriella told us she once made this for 80 people!!  She boiled this batch up and then apparently (I didn't see this part) used it to make two different mixtures (I know one had bits of red pepper or tomato in it).  She pressed these into little ring molds and now that I think about it, I think she also pressed the polenta into a ring mold because we had three little rings of "stuff" on our plates and they were dressed with something delicious (darn it!)

Now here, Gabriella is making a cake for dessert.  Sort of a sponge type cake, I'd say - egg whites beaten separately and then mixed into the batter, a little lemon flavoring and baked in a tube pan.

And wouldn't you know - it's the only finished thing I got a picture of!  And it was good, but the other things she prepared would make much more interesting pics.

I would really recommend this whole day to anyone who is thinking about a trip to Italy.  It was wonderful and the price is reasonable, particularly with more people doing it - the price comes down a bit then.

And Gabriella was kindness itself to me.  She was trying to help Jane and Betty Lou figure out the best way to get me to Valfabricca where they would drop me off to catch the bus back to Perugia, and then contacted the bus people to confirm that there was actually a bus and what time, and then at some point said something about the train from Citta di Castello (the town nearest to them) and I said "you mean there IS one?" and yes there was.  So she then found out what time it left, it left quite soon, she said we could follow Saverio to the train station and I asked well, could I maybe just go with him then and Jane and Betty Lou could just start back and yes, yes, that was fine.  At that point Gabriella was probably kind of stunned at my big hug and "Italian cheek kiss/kiss" she got from me but I was so incredibly relieved to not be sending Jane and Betty Lou on yet another trip out of their way.  So Saverio took me to the station, the ticket office was closed, he went into the tabacchi that was there, told the woman what ticket I needed, I paid her and with a little kiss/kiss from him, he left and I waited about 20 minutes for my train straight to Perugia!!  Wonderful end to the day and my only regret was that I didn't know about this in time to just take the train out there in the first place!  Good grief - I could have got a reasonable hour train, gone out to Citta di Castello, Saverio could have picked me up on the way to the hunt, and all that turmoil could have been avoided.

And that, folks, is the truffle hunt saga.  I have well and truly tasted truffles and they may be stinky but oh, mama mia - I loved everything I ate!


Christopher said...

My, what an operation! What a feast! What a delight, it seems! Will you perhaps be bringing home a "true" truffle oil infusion from their shop?
How neat! Glad the train worked out too!

vrmichie said...

You make it sound so wonderful that I daresay Gabriella, Saverio and Cecelia will regard you as their good-will ambassador. :) I'm sure eager to hear more about the recipes.

January said...

Brava!! What a fantastic day and a lovely bunch of food. Kind of makes me a little sad with my hot dogs for dinner this evening... :)
That sounds amazing - I'm so glad you decided to sign up for it.

stevan-black truffle farmer said...

Black truffle are grown on farms in Spain & other countries of the world. Owning a black truffle farm is a great way to make a living, sure beats working in a office.

Hi! said...

Thanks for all the chat, folks - it was certainly pretty wonderful. And January, believe it or not, I've reached the "hungry for a hot dog" stage - we'll probably need to go to Checkers cause I don't know if I can hold out til I get to Huntington. :)

Stevan - that's interesting that you actually farm them. Do you mean you somehow plant them and then harvest them? Or do you mean you have land that has truffles and hunt them like they do in France and Italy? If so, do you use dogs or pigs?

Thanks for chiming in - my sister has been to Spain and if I ever get my fill of Italy I think Spain would be next on my list.

Mary Lynne

Louise said...

my name is Louise and Saverio told me about your blog. I live in Sansepolcro and have a rental apartment - hopefully some of my guests will enjoy reading your blog and visit Saverio's place.
Lovely photos and great descriptions!
best wishes

From the Editor's Desk... said...

Hi Louise and thanks so much for visiting. I will have to look at the map now and see where you are. I may be wanting to rent your apartment on my next trip! I had a little apartment for just 3 nights in Montefioralle last year when I was hear and loved it. Would like to rent one for longer so I could do a little cooking using fresh local products.

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