Porcini and truffles, where to look for them and above all where to go to eat them
Passionate about true flavors. Autumn has arrived and with it its most delicious fruits of the earth!
Let’s face it, Autumn is a time for… tasty food, we might say, to develop a concept dear to D’Annunzio. Without going far: one hour from Florence, two at the most, not much more than one hour from any Tuscan city, in a land endowed with few plains but many mounts and gently winding hillsides, which may correspond to a banal iconography but one that is extremely popular with hordes of visitors and expresses an extremely rich offering of produce. A land that lends itself to the flavours of Autumn. Strong and warm, like the wood and fields, the climate and the ancient material culture that produces them.
Flavours that evoke mystery. Grapes, oil, and the secular sacredness of the woods. Chestnuts dangling from the trees, porcini mushrooms springing up among the ferns and moss of the undergrowth with their caps the same colour as a Capuchin monk’s robe (the king of all hats) and a thick ivory stem. Looking for mushrooms, with a stick in one hand and a nose ready to sniff them out, is more than a pleasure, it is the excitement of an unexpected glimmer. Then, there’s the truffle, another mushroom, but one that prefers to stay below ground, waiting to be found, hunted out and discovered.
Created for the Romans by the sacred lightning of Jupiter, even though Pliny considered it to be “a callus of the earth”, it was magnificently redeemed by Brillat-Savarin (“the culinary diamond”) and Rossini, who defined it as “the Mozart of fungi”, not to mention the aphrodisiacal powers attributed to it by Napoleon and even the Divine Marquis De Sade.
Truffles and porcini (and not only), reign over our woodlands. But where to start foraging? And where to enjoy them if, like me, you have the misfortune to be colour blind and unable to distinguish one shade from another on that marvellous natural floor?
Truffle means Tuber Magnautum Pico, The extremely fragrant and precious white truffle for grating raw on eggs and tagliolini, from autumn to the cold days of early winter, and maybe even later with the warm seasons we are now having; so long as the heat has not been excessive and the soil too dry, preventing the harvest from being excellent one and resulting in foul play on the market stalls, such as Croatian, Serbian or North African truffles being fobbed off as products from Piedmont, Le Marche and Tuscany, the capitals of ours. The most likely areas in Tuscany are San Miniato and its surrounds, and down through the Valdera as far as Volterra; not forgetting the Crete Senesi and, more recently, parts of Mugello and even the area of Chiantifiorentino.
Porcini, from the mountainous zones of course: chestnut and beech are the most aromatic and tasty, which means the Garfagnana (some splendid ones have already been seen, even on the markets of Versilia…) and then there are the Pistoia Apennines, the crest of the Abetone at the Doganaccia, as well as the ridge between the Futa and the Giogo and Colla, and the more distant Casentino. The vastness of the areas are matched by the number of restaurants. Starting from the north, in the Garfagnana: Da Carlino and Bonini at Castelnuovo, Il Pozzo at Pieve Fosciana, Cavalier Bruno at Fornoli not far away from the Chifenti crossroads. The Pistoia Mountains: you cannot go wrong if you choose Fagiolino at Cutigliano, or da Silvio on the road for the Abetone, or the Capannina run by Duccio Ugolini at the Abetone. In Mugello? There’s the Antica Porta di Levante at Vicchio, La Bottega di Grezzano waiting to be discovered at Grezzano di Borgo San Lorenzo, Marisa and Le Maschere at Barberino, the holiday farm of La Vanella at Firenzuola, or let starred chef Antonello Sardi pamper you at the Virtuoso restaurant on the premises of Tenuta Le Tre Virtù, immersed in the silence of Bosco ai Frati. The Casentino also lives up to its name with many excellent “eateries”, of which we recommend the Tana degli Orsi at Pratovecchio, Pucini at Camaldoli and, a bit further away but excellent: Il Cerro at Caprese Michelangelo.
What about a truffle feast? In the area of San Miniato: Pepe Nero, Papaveri e Papere, Antico Ristoro Le Colombaie, or the Quattro Gigli at Montopoli, and then Del Duca at Volterra. In the Crete Senesi, the Osteria delle Crete and the Locanda del Castello at San Giovanni d’Asso or the Conte Matto at Trequanda.For those wanting to go further afield, there is also Mount Amiata. A sure bet is Silene at Seggiano or Le Aiuole located between Arcidosso and Santa Fiora.