I met Giorgio many years ago when I was teaching an English evening class in Canelli. It was a mixed bunch. A lady who owned a bed and breakfast, another who worked for a silk printing company, a guy who worked for Gancia wines and Giorgio, who together with his brother, ran a truffle hunting business. I loved teaching that class, all had great personalities and a different reasons for wanting to learn English. Giorgio wanted to take foreign tourists in his woods hunting for truffles and explain as much as he could about truffles. This is the business he set up with his brother Natale back in 2002, Casa del Trifulau. Natale is very outgoing and a bit of an entertainer. Giorgio keeps a low profile, but he is equally enthusiastic and passionate about truffles, his land and traditions, and able to convey this to whoever has the patience to listen.
I called him after many years and explained my project. I Wasn’t sure he would remember me or was going to be able to help. He immediately invited me to see him, his dogs and promised to take me for a short truffle hunting session. He broke his leg in several parts last year and he is still struggling with a tutor?, but he insisted on taking me out with Diana.
Diana is not the best-looking dog Giorgio admits but good at posing for the camera. A few hundred yards after we set off, Diana smells something and after some guidance from limping Giorgio ‘su, su, su’ (go on, go on, go on) Diana starts digging and finds something. Eureka! And there she gets the “paga”, that is the “treat” for her work. On the way back to the house, Giorgio reveals some tricks of the trade, what to look for in a truffle, how things have changed since they were boys and his father took them truffle hunting at night.
“There are fewer truffles these days” says Giorgio, “the small woods near the vineyards have disappeared and so have the willow trees in the vineyards. Demand has also increased dramatically over the past decade and there are more truffle hunters out there trying to make a quick buck…. Giorgio and his brother are not into making a fortune out of truffle hunting even if they could easily do it given their expertise. They both have had other careers, live a comfortable life and have nothing to prove. But truffle hunting was always there and now they love to share it with whoever is interested in knowing more about their land, truffles and traditions.
Giorgio gave me a few truffles and a copy of his brother’s book, Il mistero e il fascino del tartufo: una storia d’amore,which has also been translated into English.
The book narrates memories of Natale and Giorgio of when they were children and their father used to take them truffle hunting at night.
Their father then used to sell the truffles in Alba at the market or in Asti at Caffè San Carlo. The book also talks about the phases of the moon that have an influence on the ripening of the truffles (although this is debated) and mentions some popular legends about truffle hunting places. There is a section with poems about truffles in Piedmontese, one with family recipes, another one about the history of the truffle through centuries, and also some tips about how to select and preserve truffles.
I finally ask Giorgio how he prefers to eat his white truffles. His favourite dish is “carne cruda all’albese”, which is thinly sliced raw beef with a drizzle of extra virgin olive oil and a generous shaving of white truffle. “You eat truffles with your nose, remember” Giorgio wants to point out, “the taste is secondary, so make sure that you eat them with very simple dishes”. And what about the wine combination, I guess you need a white wine? “Absolutely not! With truffles I drink Barbera (the local red wine)! And if people don’t like it, I don’t care. This is what everyone drinks here!”