San Minato: The city of truffle

An unmistakable scent, a complex aroma, a strange chemical code that springs from the subsoil and attracts animals and people like a magnet: truffle.

Lucia Maffei

An overbearingly olfactory sensation first, well before the gustative one, that has generated a sort of “fatal attraction” in mankind since ancient times. This strange tuber, considered by the world’s gourmets as the indispensable “diamond” to coronate dishes belonging to the more refined cuisine, is born underground, hidden from view. The French call it truffe starting in 1664, the year in which Molière made it famous in his satire Tartuffe. In Germany, they call it Trüffe” and for English-speakers it is truffle.

In any language, its name evokes strong emotions: composer Giovacchino Rossini defined it “the Mozart of mushrooms”; it is told that Lord Byron kept it close to him because its scent stimulated his poetic and creative vein; in his treatise on cuisine, “De Re Culinaria” (“On the Subject of Cooking”), the Latin Apicius narrated how the Roman Emperor Nero defined it “food of the gods”; and for the Greek Plutarch, its underground origin was due to a mysterious combination of heat, water and lightning...


INDEED, IT IS A VERY RARE OBJECT OF DESIRE and the woods where one can find this underground mushroom are very few, and often research is made up of false alarms and small, very small triumphs. The places most famous for the presence of white truffle are found in Italy, in the region of Piedmont, in the area around the cities of Alba and Asti. In France, the Perigord area and, back in Italy, the city of Norcia in the region of Umbria, are the most famous geographical areas for the collection of prized black truffle. For about thirty years now, though, also a small and ancient Tuscan city, located in the province of Pisa, has been contending for the Italian supremacy on the quality and collection of this extremely prized tuber. Oak, poplar, willow and linden forests that cover the hills and valleys around the city are a veritable natural gold mine where, among all the qualities of truffle possible, the rarest and most prized one grows: the Tuber magnatum pico or Prized White Truffle.


AND IT IS ACTUALLY IN SAN MINIATO THAT IN NOVEMBER OF 2007, THE LARGEST TRUFFLE OF THESE LAST 40 YEARS WAS UNEARTHED: ONE-AND-A-HALF KILOGRAMS (3.3 POUNDS). Auctioned in Florence, it was bought for the record price of 330 thousand dollars. The buyer was the Chinese magnate Stanley Ho who, as he stated to the press, wanted to properly celebrate his birthday and rightfully enter the Guinness Book of World Records. This maxi truffle is second only to another sample, weighing two and a half kilograms (5.5 pounds) found many years before in – believe it or not – San Miniato.

In reality, it is said that a large portion of what has become famous as the “true” white truffle of Alba, sold in Piedmont and worldwide at very high prices that often exceed 10,000 euro per kilo, comes from the woods of San Miniato, where the best pieces are sold by the city’s merchants, of course “very secretly”, to merchants in Piedmont.

Many people look for truffle in San Minato; many are professional seekers who supply the area’s restaurants and merchants, but many others are seekers for passion and pleasure. Entire families of truffle-seekers pass their knowledge of the secret paths hidden among the oak and holm oak trees from one generation to the next. And none of them lack the fundamental instrument for truffle seeking: the dog. The Associazione Tartufai di San Miniato (Association of Truffle Seekers of the San Miniato Hills) counts more than 400 members... together with their masters. The best breed for truffle seeking is retained to be the Lagotto breed, but often also cute and funny cross-breeds, lacking noble pedigrees, turn out to be optimal, enthusiastic seekers.


LOOKING FOR TRUFFLES IN THE WOODS, FOLLOWING AN OLFACTORY TRACE THAT GUIDES THE DOG’S NOSE, is an unusual and exciting activity that today brings groups of Americans, Germans and Japanese to San Miniato to try this experience. And indeed, experiencing the Tuscan countryside in the fall means diving into a world where light and nature are continuously changing. The best period for white truffle is between September and November and in this period one can participate as a spectator to the truffle search, following truffle seekers and their dogs. A long walk into nature that allows observing the very close tie that bonds the seeker and his/her dog: they move in symbiotic fashion in this entertaining gold rush…

In this small city of noble and antique origins, the truffle has for years constituted not only a pivot for the local economy but also an element of strong valorization of the local culture. For over 30 years, San Miniato plays host to the Mostra Mercato Nazionale del Tartufo Bianco (National White Truffle Festival and Market) and for the entire month of November, turns into an open-air laboratory for the palate, calling together restaurant owners, gourmets and cuisine fans from the entire world. Around King Truffle, exhibited in the market of Piazza del Duomo, rotate the markets of the other piazzas, and the tastes and flavors typical of Tuscany and of these hills, are mixed in expert and constantly new combinations with the tastes and specialties of the other Italian Città del Gusto (Cities of Tastes).

What makes white truffle so special is also its most extraordinary peculiarity: it grows only spontaneously. Among all the types of truffle, it is the only one that seemingly cannot be reproduced or cultivated in any way. And this particularity often makes it hard to find, always very expensive and above all bestows sometimes mysterious powers onto it, as written in the XXVIII century by the French gastronome Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, author of The Physiology of Taste, “The truffle... makes women kinder, and men more amiable.”.


The Truffle Festivals in San Miniato


National White Truffle Festival and Market of the San Miniato Hills

San Miniato - Historic center - 15-16/22-23/29-30 November 2008


The Balconevisi Truffle and Mushroom Festival

Balconevisi - San Miniato - 3rd weekend of October


The Corazzano Truffle Festival

Corazzano - San Miniato - 1st weekend in October


The Marzuolo Truffle Festival

Cigoli - San Miniato - 3rd weekend in March

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