The City of Truffles
The White Truffle from the San Miniato hills, a geographical truffle-producing area that extends towards the inland countryside of Pisa, is known as the Tuber Magnatum Pico, the Food of the Kings, and is the most valuable of this underground fungi. Located a few centimetres deep, they can only be found in a limited number of areas favoured by nature for the particular, almost mysterious combination of forest fauna and geological substratum. Brillat Savarin writes: "the truffle makes women more tender and men more amiable". And, poor fellow, he's only referring to the black truffle of Périgord.
San Miniato holds the most records in this select area. Here the largest truffle ever found, a very fragrant tuber weighing in at 2.520 grams, was presented to President of the United States Eisenhower in 1954 with great fanfare. But their truffles also hold a record of quality, not only because of the fertility of the woods, but also to the care taken and the deep respect for the environment where they are gathered.
Regulated by strict controls and a regional law that defines how they are gathered and marketed, the White Truffle of San Miniato is served in the best restaurants in the world. Gathered with moderation and selectivity, production is limited due to the brevity of their season (the three months of October, November and December).
In fact, the value of the White Truffle of San Miniato lies in its rarity. Its roots date from the Middle Ages, but it has only been a little more than 100 years that their gathering has been organised by the area's family groups, the so-called Tartufai delle Colline Samminiatesi (Truffle-gatherers of the San Miniato Hills) (created about twenty years ago), that groups together more than 400 gatherers in the Egola, Elsa and Era Valleys, all tributaries of the Arno River. More than just truffle finders, the families each have their own secrets handed down through generations, their truffle dogs and their hidden paths in oak, poplar and holm oak forests.
The truffle, though, does not just mean a unique taste: it also is a local business and culture. For forty years the Mostra Mercato Nazionale del Tartufo Bianco di San Miniato (The National White Truffle of San Miniato Show), transforms the city for the entire month of November into a huge open-air tasting workshop. Here the truffle takes the throne where it is displayed in the historical Piazza del Duomo at the foot of the Rocca. Other squares also have their own markets where typical flavours of the San Miniato hills are offered together with specialities from other Italian culinary cities.
The Truffle Show, however, is just the peak of what this extraordinary season has to offer. In the heart of the land of truffles, deep in the woods and countryside, smaller and hidden festivals take place in October in little villages that are home to the oldest truffle dynasties: The Corazzano Festival, at the foot of the Romanesque parish of San Giovanni Battista and the Balconevisi Festival, in the ancient village of the Florentine Strozzi family, when each quarter participates in a goose race. And in March the early Marzuolo truffle can be tasted in Cigoli, birthplace of Lodovico Cardi who rivalled Correggio as the leader of Mannerism.