Looking to try some truffles in Umbria?
The Italian region of Umbria is famous for its black truffles. Not the chocolate kind, the ones you dig up.
When I came to Umbria in 2014, I’d never seen or tasted a truffle. While I’d heard of them, the closest I’d come was truffle oil to drizzle on pizzas. Truffles are a type of chocolate right?
Truffles are a great reason to come and visit the region of Umbria, in the centre of Italy. Black truffles in Umbria are plentiful, and available most of the year.
So if you’re interested in trying truffles for the first time or wondering about the best way to try truffles:
Here is everything you need to know about enjoying truffles in Umbria.
So what are Truffles?
Truffles are a fungus, part of the mushroom family.
You’ll find them close to trees, as the truffles need trees to host them to survive. Truffles grow underground, next to the tree trunk or around the roots. Not every tree can host truffles, but many can. The most common trees truffles grow beside include oak, willow and cedar.
Many hunt for truffles in the oak forest all over Umbria.
Truffles can also be cultivated. It might seem like a tree farm, but it’s all about what’s hidden from view with the trees.
Truffles are harvested in two seasons, winter and summer.
There are many varieties but the simplest two categories are white truffles and black truffles.
If you’re dying to try white truffle, and it is amazing, you must visit in the winter.
But for the much cheaper black truffle any time from June till August or October till April works.
Fun Truffle fact: For every 100 grams of truffle contains 1% copper.
Ordering Truffles on a Menu
The Italian word for truffle is Tartufo.
In Italian cuisine, truffles grated on top of eggs, made into a pasta sauce or cooked in a cream sauce to pour onto meat.
Look for a starter of scrambled eggs with slivers of truffle grated on top. This is my favourite way to enjoy fresh truffles, and vegetarian.
Under Primi on an Italian menu (literal translation is ‘firsts’ referring to pasta/risotto) on an Italian menu you’ll find Risotto al Tartufo Nero or black truffle risotto. Something like: Tagliatelle al Tartufo Nero di Norcia, or pasta with black truffles from Norcia. Norcia is a small town in the south-eastern corner of Umbria that is famous for all things pork, lentils and truffles.
Wanting a steak? Look for ‘Tagliata al Tartufo’. This is a sliced piece of beef with a truffles sauce. It isn’t normally a cream sauce.
For all of these dishes the waiter could bring a truffle to grate over top at the table.
*Pasta with truffles might not be vegetarian. Many add a bit of anchovy to enhance the flavour.
Best restaurants to try truffles in Umbria?
I should say, since we have a truffle dog I don’t order truffles out that much. But these places I have and enjoyed them.
In Assisi my first choice would be Osteria Piazzetta dell’Erba. I once tried a tortellini dish with a cream truffle sauce that was amazing!
The restaurants in Spoleto, in the south of Umbria, always have truffles on the menu. And if you’re driving Norcia in the south east mountain or Gubbio in the north-west, are hilltop Umbrian towns that are also great for truffles.
The truffle season in Italy?
Like with anything that grows, truffles have seasons when they can be harvested. The simplest way to remember is that there are the summer black truffles and the winter black truffles.
Summer truffles are always black, and the best month to eat summer truffles is in July. But their harvesting season is from June till the end of August.
White truffles, the truffles that sell for thousands of euros, are only available in winter for a short period. December/January/February.
Winter black truffles have a longer season, from October until April. They’re best in the coldest months, so January and February.
Cooking with Truffles in Umbria
Try truffles at a restaurant before trying to cook them. You’ll find out if you like them, and how they should taste.
Truffles are easiest to cook by adding to scrambled eggs or in a pasta sauce with olive oil, a piece of garlic and maybe a hint of anchovy.
White truffles are far more expensive and always eaten raw; shaved or grated over top of meat or eggs.
In Umbria, it’s easy to find truffles for sale.
The simplest is to buy them in a grocery store. There are jars of whole truffles preserved in oil or grated into a mushroom mix. Check the ingredients on these ready-to-use sauces because sometimes it is all mushroom and no truffle. Commercially the jars in the grocery store are 80% mushroom.
At markets there is always someone selling truffles when they’re in season. And it’s nice to buy them straight from the person hunting them. Plan on spending around 10 euros for two people.
But I wouldn’t recommend truffle oils. They’re a low-cost substitute to add flavour and are made with a synthetic agent.
Truffle Hunting in Wild Umbria
The province of Umbria produces the most black truffles in all of Italy. A day out truffle hunting with a guide and their dog(s) will get you out exploring the Umbrian woods and hunting truffles.
Escape the heat in the summer, or another day of museums and churches, for a morning foraging and then being rewarded with a fresh lunch full of truffles.
You need a guide for truffle hunting in Italy. Not just for the well-trained dog, but because someone must have a truffle hunting license. Like getting a driver’s license, you need to pass an exam about the strict rules and pay a yearly fee. And there’s only a certain number issued in a year.
How I learnt about truffles in Umbria
I learnt about truffles when we got a dog, Charlie.
On a walk when the dog was 2, I caught him eating something. I took it away only to discover that it was a truffle! I couldn’t believe it. There are black truffles a ten-minute walk from our house?
And yes, we ate it for lunch that day.
Since finding that first truffle my father-in-law got his license and Charlie has had professional training. Charlie will now happily point out truffles for a piece of cheese or meat. But the tiny ones he still keeps for himself.
What always amazes me is a dog’s sense of smell. When Charlie catches a scent, it isn’t always nearby and can be deep in the soil.
I guess that’s why in Italian a dog’s nose is called his ‘truffle’.
As a dog delicately unearths a truffle, you might get a whiff of the earthy smell.
Thought that they used pigs for truffle hunting? Pigs can also be this destructive, which is why they are banned from truffle hunting in Italy. But they still use them sometimes in France.
Different varieties of Truffles in Umbria
There are many types of truffles. The basics include the winter black, the summer black, and the white truffle.
The most prized is the white truffle, or Tuber Magnatum, which go for huge prices. In Umbria, the white truffle season is from November till January. They aren’t found everywhere, mostly they grow along the Tiber river in the north of Umbria.
All the varieties of black winter truffles have a nutty flavour and can be found November till February.
Summer truffles are always black and don’t have as strong a flavour. For the best quality black summer truffles, come to Umbria in July.
The fun of Truffle Hunting
I don’t know about other dogs, but it’s obvious when Charlie finds a truffle. He is far more delicate when he digs, careful so it doesn’t get thrown out or damaged.
And if we don’t find it right away? He’ll circle back and redigging the hole until we get it. He knows we’re lost without him.