by Suzette Martinez Standring
In Umbria, Italy, I am on my first-ever truffle hunt. Nicola Berardi, a third generation truffle hunter, points toward valley fields, woodland slopes, and snowy streams that crisscross the purple Sibillini Mountains. “Natura,” he said.
It is April, an in-between time for truffle hunting, and we are hiking among 100-year-old oak trees. The season for Winter Black Truffles (Tuber Melanosporum), best harvested December to February, is over. Winter truffles contain gases that exude a potent earthiness when simply shaved into food, and they command high prices for their aromatic intensity—Nicola once found a 1.3 pound truffle worth about $1275!
However, this early in spring, we may be lucky enough to find the first of the Summer Black Truffles (Tuber Aestivum), that peak from June through November. Though nicely perfumed, summer truffles are considered secondary by locals, who call them “scorzoni,” meaning “big skin,” and as such are cheaper than their winter cousins. Their flavor is brought out best through cooking.
When buying jars of truffles from Italy, winter truffles are called “Tartufo Invernali”. Summer truffles are called “Oystivo.”
As we walk, Nicola’s two setters furiously dig at the base of a juniper tree. Nicola nudges them aside to pull up a small mass. With a truffle hoe, he delicately scrapes the dirt away as if it were a precious artifact. A dark, orb-shaped fungus is revealed. A deep whiff conjures up musk and loam, but the immature truffle is not yet good for eating. Another specimen has peaked too early, spongy to the touch and soon to rot. A third, small truffle weighs about 1.7 ounces and will sell for about $15.
Nicola, who also farms lentils and spelt, inherited truffle foraging rights from his grandfather. I envy his treasure hunting excursions on the Umbrian landscape. When I return to the South Shore I will forage for exotic mushrooms in the Blue Hills and local parks, feeling fortunate to have been part of a once in a lifetime truffle hunt in Italy.
Suzette Martinez Standring is the award winning author and writing workshop presenter of The Art of Opinion Writing and The Art of Column Writing, and an avid forager. Look for more mushroom articles by Suzette in future issues of edible SOUTH SHORE & SOUTH COAST.