Ever since I can remember I have been besotted with truffles. My pilgrimage to paradise took me straight to Alba in the Piedmont region of Italy, home to one of life's most precious and exclusive rarities—the white truffle. No one in Alba is willing to take an "outsider" into the inner sanctum of truffle hunting. But a warmhearted Milanese Cavaliere (knight), respected in Italian society, arranged my first truffle hunt.
This was no mean feat as truffles are so rare and prized that hunters jealously guard their ground from outsiders. Such is the deep cover that I will not sign this piece, but will only reveal myself as The Truffleman, member of the British Academy of Gastronomes.
The day of the hunt could not arrive soon enough for me. I arose long before the crack of dawn, armed with a flashlight, clad in Wellingtons and a warm jacket, and fortified by black coffee with grappa in the customary truffle hunter's tradition. The moment of truth arrived: I met for the first time a genuine truffle hunter from Alba, Michaeli, at an undisclosed destination. In addition to carrying a flashlight, he sported the characteristic truffle hunter's curved weeding hoe to unearth the truffle and a traditional walking stick to guide the specialist hunting dogs. I was soon to discover that these dogs were not only fine sniffers but also what the Germans call feinschmeckers, or gourmets, because every now and then I caught them, when Michaeli was not looking, quickly chomping a small truffle with delight!
Man and dog then proceeded to join forces to unearth the treasure trove usually found between one and 15 inches below the ground. After more than two hours of intense and focused searching on the stunningly beautiful hills, we had accumulated 21 truffles. In life nothing excites passion as much as the chase.
It is therefore no surprise that one of the greatest truffle hunters recorded in history was none other than Casanova. Needless to say, I had one incredible truffle risotto with my wife on the night of the hunt.
Local restaurants in Alba that serve out-of-this-world white truffle dishes include Ca' del Lupo (www.cadellupo.it) and Osteria dell'Arco (osteriadellarco.it). Michaeli's truffle finds can be had at tartuflanghe.it.
For truffle-hunting information and truffle events in the United States, visit the North American Truffling Society (natruffling.org).