Truffle hunting last weekend was like a dress rehearsal for the foodie breaks we want to offer in future. Or, as some of our friends have suggested, an over-dressed rehearsal.
I see their point, though – after all, how does one dress for a morning traipsing up and down an Italian hillside with a pair of dogs? Not in a pair of smart loafers, our guide quickly informed me, as he passed me a pair of wellies.
He eyed my Paul Smith cotton scarf with obvious scepticism too.
We were away in Le Marche – a stunningly beautiful, unspoiled region of Italy, bordering its Adriatic coast – to celebrate our friend Keeley’s birthday. She’s the friend who has us to stay in her home in south-west France and has inadvertently launched our lives in a new direction.
For her, the weekend was about sampling her favourite foodstuff, truffles. For us, it was about seeing how truffle hunting could work as part of a gourmet weekend break.
Very well, it transpires.
Our host for the morning, Paolo, had us picked up from our hotel and brought to his farmhouse near the town of Force. From there, he led us out with his dogs to find truffles.
Although only in his 40s, Paolo – or maybe his parents – had had the great foresight to plant a couple of hillside sites with trees impregnated with truffle spores. After a 20-year wait, he now has a thriving truffle business.
“We were busy making mental notes about how we might run something similar in south-west France soon”
Black, summer truffles, he explained, can be cultivated in this way. The more intense, white truffles can’t.
Italy’s summer truffles are less pungent than Périgord truffles – and, as you might expect, don’t command quite the same prices.
The dogs could sniff them out all the same, and found 10 ripe summer truffles, which we took back to the farmhouse, where Nonna was waiting for us. She made fresh tagliatelle, which was then cooked along with a generous portion of grated truffle and extra virgin extra olive oil and served for lunch.
Plenty of other local produce – and wine – was offered as part of the experience.
Damon and I were busy making mental notes about how we might run something similar in south-west France soon. Mind you, ‘soon’ may not be the most appropriate word – our property purchase has been on-again, off-again more times than I care to admit.
The buying experience has been an emotional rollercoaster. Even now I can’t predict the outcome with any confidence.
But especially after our weekend away, you can be sure that wherever we end up, there will be truffles.