Walking through the autumn woodland, hazy sunrays shining between the trunks, and our feet rustling through the colourful carpet of leaves, it occurs to me that this is a beautiful, meandering walk. But we’re not here to fill our lungs with the earthy smell of dewy hummus and leaf mulch and take in the gentle Umbrian scenery.
A few feet in front of us, setting the pace and leading the way is Giuliano, a truffle hunter, and his dog Leda. We’re on the hunt for the white gold that lies beneath our feet – the prized wild tartufo bianco that has a short season and can’t be farmed. Thanks to its elusive habit and the incredibly rich, umami flavour that it brings to any dish, white truffles are the most expensive food on the planet, regularly costing £2,000 per kilo.
Suddenly the dog barks and rummages excitedly in the undergrowth; Giuliano steps in with his knife. He’s struck gold – we can smell it! The truffle is not much to look at, more like a dirty stone or a gnarled piece of pale clay – but we don’t catch sight of it for long. As quick as a flash it’s in Guiliano’s pocket. By lunchtime it will be on the menu at L’Antica Osteria in the tiny hilltop town of Montone, or for sale in the town square as part of the annual Festa del Bosco.
The end of October marks the beginning of the white truffle season here and there are festivities to celebrate its arrival across the region. Montone’s Festa del Bosco takes place between 30 October and 2 November. Every restaurant and shop in the small pedestrian town brings out its truffles and forest foods to sell throughout the weekend.
After a slap-up lunch of tagliatelle with white truffle, venison stew with shaved truffles and a slab of steak covered in truffle, washed down with local Umbrian wine from Montefalco, we head north to Citta di Castello.
Here, the Tartufo Bianco Festival is in full swing (31 Oct-2 Nov) and the atmosphere in the evening is more like a carnival, with dancers, street performers and, of course, plenty of food and wine. The Truffle tents greet you with their intense woody whiff, so strong that it’s almost dizzying, and at every stall you can try truffle pate, oils, truffled honey, cheese, and even buy the real thing. While you might not want to spend E500, you can pick up a small black truffle for about E10 or oils and other treats from about E5.
It’s not all truffles – new season porcini, hazelnuts, wild boar, wine and olive oil are all for sale and foodie stalls sell delicious snacks to eat now or take home for later.
Our home for the weekend, was a lovingly restored and converted medieval farm and church, Chiesa del Carmine, nestled in a valley surrounded by olive groves, vines and its own truffle woods. The next day we sat in the autumn sun and ate al fresco, while sipping on some of the estate’s own Sangiovese. It was the perfect setting to feast on the harvest bounty from this unspoilt, authentic slice of Italy.
Chiesa del Carmine sleeps 14. From E4,000 a week. www.chiesadelcarmine.com
Fly to Perugia with Ryan Air from £22.99 each way. www.ryanair.com