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The black gold of Umbria: a journey among truffles

  • 01/04/2022


Even in the food and wine world - and not only in that of fairy tales or legends - treasures are underground. In this case it is not a question of chests full of gold coins, but special underground mushrooms that release their intense scent once grated: we are talking about the black truffle that finds fertile soil in Umbria. Perhaps not everyone knows that, in fact, this region is a huge truffle ground, because its wooded hills are the ideal habitat for many species. So today we take you with us for a real treasure hunt, to discover the black gold of Umbria, that is the precious black truffle.


Truffle: what is it?

A prized food, which has its roots - literally - not only in the earth but also in legend. Known already in Greek and Roman times, it was believed to be born thanks to a mixture of water, heat and lightning. According to the Roman myth, it is thanks to Jupiter that we can enjoy it today: the god would in fact have thrown a thunderbolt near an oak tree, a tree sacred to him, and the truffle was born from the impact. Interesting because in fact the truffle is an hypogean fungus, that is, it grows underground and near trees that are particularly rich in water, including the oak, from which it draws nourishment and returns water and mineral salts to the plant, just like mushrooms do. But what does it look like? With an external cortex called "pridio" and an internal fleshy mass called "gleba".


Truffles in Umbria: which varieties?

Tuber terrae - scientific name of the truffle – needs soils particularly rich in nutrition, and Umbria has plenty of it. The varieties that are harvested in this region are about ten, from the rarest and most expensive to the cheapest: let's discover together some of the most interesting high quality truffles!


Precious Black Truffle

Let's start with him, the Precious Black truffle, known everywhere as the Norcia or Spoleto truffle. It is the prevailing quality in Umbria, widespread in the territories that flank the course of the Nera river and on the Spoleto mountains and on the Trevi and Subasio mountains, it is collected from November to March. It grows in limestone soils rich in clay and lives in symbiosis with oaks, holm oaks, beeches and chestnuts, at an altitude ranging from 250 to 1000 meters. But what makes this truffle so special? From the dimensions ranging from those of a walnut to those of an orange and with a rounded, often irregular shape, it is characterized by a black and wrinkled outer skin, but not angular. The black-purplish pulp, crossed by thin lighter veins, gives off an intense aroma, whose flavor is enhanced with cooking.


Scorzone (black summer truffle)

Also known as summer truffle, scorzone (Tuber aestivum) is a black truffle, whose nickname derives from its rough and particularly warty rind. It grows in sandy and clayey soils, deciduous forests and in some cases even in pine forests, and is harvested from May to December. What distinguishes it from the Nero Pregiato? 

● The external coating - of an intense black color - is more rounded and thick, and consists of large and hard pyramidal warts.

● The gleba, however, is clear: it can vary from shades of beige to ocher, up to hazelnut.

● The aroma and flavor, however, are the two elements that make the summer truffle. A scent with fruity notes - less intense and more delicate than that of other truffles - is released when it is eaten fresh or slightly heated, for example by grating it on a hot dish.

Black winter or hooked truffle

We conclude our journey to discover the black truffle in Umbria by talking about the black hooked truffle or also known as winter truffle or scorzone (Tuber Uncinatum Chatin). In fact, it is often confused with the summer truffle, since they have similar characteristics, in particular the warty outer part, but in reality, observing it carefully, differences are noticed. The warts are smaller and more accentuated than those of the scorzone, and the pulp has a darker color, almost chocolate brown and with whitish branched veins when ripe. Flavors and aromas are intense, with notes of hazelnut, porcini and parmesan, and for this reason it is excellent both raw and cooked, especially on risottos. Finally, the winter truffle has a higher price than the summer one due to the shorter ripening period.

But that's not all: Umbria is also home to some white varieties that deserve a taste!


White Truffle or Trifola

Not just black. Umbria, among its treasures, also offers white truffles, such as the well-known and rare Bianco Pregiato (Tuber Magnatum Pico) also called Trifola, which is harvested in the period between October and December, but in some more sheltered areas it is found up to all January. It grows mainly in the upper Tiber Valley, in the Eugubino Gualdese and in the Orvieto area, at a greater depth than other truffles and prefers higher trees such as poplars, willows, albacore, but also oaks, turkey oaks and hornbeams. The size of Bianco Pregiato varies from that of a small walnut to that of an orange and must be regular and rounded. Depending on its ripeness, the color of the pulp can vary from hazelnut to dark brown. But what distinguishes it are the sharp aroma and the incomparable flavor: cut into very thin slices and strictly raw, the truffle gives its best on dishes without sauces or other condiments to cover.


Bianchetto or Marzuolo truffle

Let's stay in the field of "white" truffles and meet the bianchetto or marzuolo truffle (Tuber borchii Vitt.), defined as "rustic", as compared to other more valuable truffles such as White or Black, it has lower prices. Harvested from January to April, it has the particularity of growing both in coastal and maritime areas and in mountain areas, up to 1000 meters above sea level because it adapts to live in symbiosis with pines but also with downy oaks, beeches and poplars. Smooth and light rind, with an equally light pulp with veins, tending more to white when young and more reddish when ripe: these are its characteristics. But how is it used in the kitchen? Perfect for flavoring and giving that extra boost to traditional homemade recipes, such as broths and first courses, for which a garlicky scent stands out.

 

If you are wondering where to taste these treasures of the earth, we have some tips for you! In the Montecorona Estate, in the "Abbazia di Montecorona" restaurant located inside the Abbey and managed by the well-known Samanta Girelli, you can taste the selection of truffles from the Urbani Tartufi area, which since 1852 has become a reference company in the truffle market worldwide. After a tasting of traditional dishes, you can stay in one of the double rooms and dedicate yourself to the discovery of this region, since the estate is located in Umbertide, a nerve center for reaching places such as Assisi and Perugia, both cities that offer a lot to visit. between art and history.​​​

 

 

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