Day 4 – Hunting Truffles in Umbria

Today we went high up into the mountains to a little settlement called Pettino where in the summer there might live about 75 residents, in the winter maybe 15 or so. None of the towns in the photo below are Pettino, which is located much higher up in the mountains.

The Chiaccherini family has owned property in Pettino since 1486. Now it takes them about a half hour to get to the nearest big town of Spoleto over the mountains by four-wheel drive. Back then it must have taken days by mule or foot.

Luca, the truffle hunter, took us into the forest with his trained dogs. Truffles require a certain combination of the right soil and the right tree roots to grow. They do particularly well in central Italy.

The scenery was splendid, wildflowers starting to carpet the meadows and the Appenines in the distance.

Wild cherry trees are blossoming now. Luca tells us that their fruit is small but very delicious. The birds leave about half of them for the people to eat.

Luca and his friend Filippo crisscross the fields.

One of Luca’s dogs, Mora, finds a truffle. The dogs know which tree roots have produced truffles in the past and return to the same trees.

Watch Mora find the truffle here and get two biscotti as a reward for his find.

After about an hour of following the dogs, we return to the truck where Luca weighs out the truffles.

For local consumption

Truffles can’t be preserved through freezing or pickling. We’ll have to have them for lunch.

The family raises Chianina cows, one of the oldest breeds of cattle, raised in central Italy for about 2200 years.

We visit the sheep herd, about 250 sheep which are guarded by several white sheep dogs who keep away the wolves.

The sheep are being raised for their wool, which has been uncommon in Italy. Generally sheep are raised for milk, but this particular breed is called Sopravissano Merino, a breed which produces very fine wool. The fleece goes to a town called Bialle in Piemonte where it is processed to create wool used in luxury Italian textiles.

While we learned about the sheep, we were fed an egg and truffle dish Luca made with the truffles his dogs found.

Ben, the shepherd, hails from New Zealand, and is a cousin of Mac, the husband of Francesca, who makes us pasta for lunch. This is definitely a family-run enterprise working together.

Francesca, in the white sweater, works with Fabiola, Luca’s sister, to prepare the lunch meal. Everything is hand-made, including the salume hanging from the ceiling.

You can see Francesca’s efficient technique for making the pasta here.

Franco, Francesca’s uncle, enjoyed the meal, which included wild boar stew, along with the rest of us.

We left this warm and kind family with lots of hugs and hopes that we will return, at least in our memories, to this unforgettable spot in Umbria called Pettino.

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