‘Carlo, Carlo’ she shouts, her shrill voice cutting across the hills, “Vene qui!’. She thinks it’s enough. If he should fall, someone will have to care for him, it is time that he stops. But the 88-year-old Carlo climbs out of his window that very same night, as his dog awaits him below: ‘In the night, I enjoy listening to the owl in the forest, in the night I find it nice to find a beautiful truffle’.
Deep in the woods of Piemonte in north western italy, a pair of old men search along with their dogs for one of the most adored and precious kitchen ingredients: the truffle. The makers of the film The Truffle Hunters knew how to tap into this spall community and have created an unforgettable monument – full of nostalgia, passion, menace and marshy forests.
Already in the first century Dioscorides described the truffle as ‘a root without a stem, light brown, that is dug up to be consumed cooked or raw’. The salesman in the film prefers to describe his truffles as predestined women: ‘ They smell delicious, They are beautiful and nicely round.’ While he sells them for astronomical sums on the telephone, he buries his nose in them lovingly.
In this reclusive world, where each truffle hunter works for himself and lives alone (with the exception of Carlo), there is much interest at play and the secrets of the forest are shared with none. Certainly not now that the slopes are being stomped flat by day hunters and the mafia is poisoning the trufflehounds of the best hunters. They share everything with that dog – their plate, their bath, their bed, their love.
Once, on a dreary autumn day I was brought, by means of a rather beaten up Fiat Panda, to a small trattoria deep in the hills of Spoleto for my best plate of spaghetti with fresh truffle ever (oh!). I was invited this week to a five course truffle dinner. I am not able to make it unfortunately but should you be inspired to go find some truffle-filled dining, be sure to watch The Truffle Hunters first!
Header image: a truffle hunter, from Tacuinum sanitatis in medicina at the Österreichischen Nationalbibliothek,
Codex Vindobonensis series nova 2644, fol. 28v