I absolutely love Autumn in Tuscany. Well, truth be told - as you can see from my posts earlier this year, I love Autumn generally. But here in Tuscany, the weather is cooler, the Tusacans outnumber the tourists and there is a lively buzz, even in the smallest villages. I have travelled here in Spring and Summer and those months certainly do have their charms (you can read more here), but I just love returning to Tuscany in Autumn. I haven't normally travelled in Tuscany as late as November. But boy, am I glad I did. Just twenty minutes down the road from where we were staying, the village of San Miniato was holding its annual white truffle festival this weekend.
White truffles are precious and are much more highly valued than the black truffles found in Umbria and the Marche. They make their appearance, as the weather really starts to cool. In the regional cooking of the area, white truffles are always used raw, whilst black truffles are thought to be best when cooked. As for that distinctive aroma, the white truffles we observed at the festival had an amazing depth of flavour, with hints of garlic and shallot and an intense musky aroma. Apparently, white truffles have a lot more gas in them compared to black truffles, so when they are shaved raw onto food they release much more of that unqiue truffle aroma. The desire of festival attendees to get a wiff of these beauties was so intense, that at one point, Mr K found himself entwined in a scrum of tweed hatted and hunting jacket wearing old men, as the lid was lifted off a huge basket of white truffles.
In addition to the magnificent white truffles themselves, the festival also offered a multitude of products using both black and white truffles. There were truffle pastes and cheeses, particularly pecorino. There was also about 100 different truffle salume on offer, a mousse, lardo and some made with Tuscan wild boar. A stall which immediately attracted Mr K was the Tuscan porchetta filled with truffles. We ordered a small focaccia filled with slices of the truffle pecorino to share, along with two glasses of the nouvello vino. Another autumn match made in heaven. Mr K has already made a request for this to feature (in a smaller version) on our Christmas table. Another particularly popular item was the crema di formaggio al tartufo (a fresh cream cheese with truffle) and a Gorgonzola cream with truffles. These were so popular that festival attendees were buying the biggest plastic containers full! I was offered a taste of the Gorgonzola on Tuscan fig bread, with a huge drizzle of truffle honey - in the other hand I had free, I was urged to take a huge slice of pear flavoured pecorino. It was absolutley divine. Needless to say, I don't think I have ever been to another food festival were the tastings were so generous or plentiful.
Like every good food festival in Europe, there was a kitchen turning out plastic plates of truly incredible food - this time featuring the white truffle. Even though were were already so full by this point, we thought we would just pop our heads into the church hall and take a peak. You could have lightly fried eggs with white truffle shaved on top, risotto with generous shavings of white truffle, gnudi with white truffle.... and to get your palate warmed up there were 'antipasto misto' platters filled with fried guanciale (little crunchy cubes of pork cheek), slices of Tuscan soppressata (an uncured salume made up of the leftover parts of the pig) and heafty slices of thick Tuscan bread spread with lardo (another type of salume made by curing strips of fat with rosemary and other herbs and spices). To accompany this feast there were generous cups of local wine for 50 euro cents. We got chatting to a family next to us. When we told them that we were from Australia, they insisted that we could not possibly leave the festival, after coming all that way, without trying a proper meal. We were urged to try the classic - taglierini with shavings of white truffle. And we did.
The pasta was lightly “sauced” with a little melted butter that had been flavored with garlic, there was also a little touch of cream added and the white truffle shaved on top just before serving. As the heat of the pasta enhances the scent of the truffle, the aroma coming from this dish and indeed the room was just incredible. We ate our amazing pasta on long communal tables, along side happy chatting locals under a beautiful fresco of the last supper. We were made to feel very welcome. After lunch we took another long walk through the beautiful town and festival, just to try and walk off some of the delicious food. The sun was setting and the Christmas lights were turning on. A few new stalls had popped up and they were selling lovingly hand made tapestry kitchen cloths emblazoned with "buoua Natalie" and small scenes of the nativity. There was music driffiting in the air and many more families were pouring into the festival to enjoying the evening, in the fresh Autumn night air. We both felt so very lucky to have been able to attend the festival, which was very much just by chance, and to visit such a beautiful town. We left the festival feeling very happy and gastronomically contended - and with the incredible sense of seasonality it offered, very much looking forward to celebrating Christmas in five weeks time with our friends and family.