Bobo is excited. He runs from tree to tree, then stops suddenly and digs. Stelvio Casetta runs after the white poodle. Just in time, he retrieves a walnut-size morsel from the dog's mouth and replaces it with a canine treat. Bobo wags his tail. Stelvio is also happy. Bobo's white truffle is worth $2,500 a pound.
Aromatic truffle scent and flavour
Stelvio holds the bumpy round Tuber magnatum to our noses. We inhale a distinctive musky scent. According to Antonietta Mello, white truffle researcher at the University of Torino, there are more than 65 species of truffles. Some of these fungi have no flavour. Others, like the black truffles of Perigord, France, and the white truffles of the Alba region of Piedmont, Italy, have culinary value.
"The special flavour of Alba's white truffles is due to a unique interaction of the fungi with the host oaks, poplar and willows, the soil, climate, temperature, rain and absence of pollutants," says Mello. "White truffles have a distinctive DNA sequence."
Truffle-hunting is top-secret work
Digging truffles is top-secret work. Truffle-hunters and their trained dogs search for the elusive tubers on autumn nights in the poplar and oak forests of Alba, in northwest Italy. When the dog unearths a truffle, the hunter quickly covers the hole so no one discovers the location.
Unlike black truffles, which are usually cooked, white truffles are eaten raw, with mild-flavoured foods, like pasta, risotto or poached eggs. We enjoyed them shaved over pumpkin ravioli, with browned sage butter and shaved over pheasant tagliolini. The dishes are even better when served with Piedmont's fine wines like Barbaresco and Diano d'Alba.
For information on Piedmont, Italy and Alba's annual autumn truffle fair, contact the Italian Government Tourist Board: www.italiantourism.com