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Report 1933: Le Marche & Umbria: Three Women, Truffle Dogs and an Uncooperative GPS

By Pokey from MA, Spring 2011

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Page 5 of 14: Bye Bye Bin Laden - Hello Truffles!

photo by Mindy Smith

The beauty of Aqualagna

I awake to the news that Osama bin Laden has been killed. The staff in the breakfast room and front desk are commenting on how “this is good, no?”

Partly sunny as we head off for Aqualagna, the most important area of Le Marche for truffles. This area has the specific flora for truffles.

We meet Giorgio, our truffle man (not to be confused with the muffin man). His father and son are also truffle hunters. We have a coffee at the Hosteria dal Vigno . The front of the newspaper (Il Resto del Carlino) shows Bin Laden with target hairs on his face and our new favorite word eliminato. We shout eliminato for anything; from killing a mosquito(eliminato-splat)! to finishing off a bottle of wine! “Eliminato!" (said with the power and conviction of Harry Potter, Hermione Granger, and Ron Weasley when casting a spell)!

We follow Giorgio to a picturesque spot where he points out the baby truffle producing oak trees, all in perfect alignment. We then go to his home where we meet his son Matteo who will accompany us on our hunt for black truffles.

They have many wonderful happy dogs but only two go with us today. Miss Lilla and Mr. Fido. Lilla is a rescue dog that Giorgio found abandoned in a garbage dumpster. She is now one of his best truffle hunters. She loves him so much! You can see in her eyes how grateful she is to him for giving her this wonderful life! The other dog, Fido, has been with Giorgio for many years. His fur is longer which is best for truffles, which are located near or underneath thorny and thicker brush.

We are told it takes about one year to train a dog to hunt for truffles. They begin by giving the dog a large piece of prosciutto wrapped around a tiny bit of truffle and eventually less and less prosciutto and more truffle. It takes about two weeks for them to understand the taste for the truffle. They have to train each dog and cancel from the dog his or her natural instincts; to be focused only with finding truffles.

The dogs are so happy when they find a truffle! Giorgio explains that he puts a young dog with a more experienced dog and this causes a competition between the two dogs. The young dog wants to please the older dog and say, “Hey look at me! I’m one smart truffle-huntin'-doggie!” The dogs are given tasty treats after finding a truffle.

After our hunt, we meet Giorgio’s father who has been in the business for many, many years. The three men are so kind and gracious. We are happy to hear that Giorgio and Matteo will join us for our “lite lunch” back at the Hosteria, each course made with the truffles gathered that morning.

We drive back to the Hosteria (fabulous bathroom by the way) and begin our food fest! I enjoy quite a few glasses of Bianchello wine. Our first course is crostini with truffle gravy. Followed by the best frittata I think I’ve ever tasted. Heaps of freshly shaved truffle on top of bright yellow eggs. Oh wait, now the pasta course with truffles!! So much for our “lite” lunch. We could not possibly eat more, but wait!

Now it is vitello scaloppine con tartufo! Raffaella says the best line at this point, “Nobody wants but no one refuses.” How true!

For dessert we all manage to devour marscapone with shaved chocolate, along with biscotti and walnut honey coffee cake. Espresso and (digestivo) Brugnolo, dated 12-12-09.

We say our goodbyes and exchange hugs with Matteo and Giorgio. I will add here that not only is Giorgio a truffle hunter, he also works for the local police and organizes the truffle feste, which is held in September/October each year.

By the way, I asked him what happens when the dogs get too old to hunt any longer. He said they are part of his family for life and when they pass away everyone grieves because they are family. He has donated a few of his older dogs to a drug rehab program for young adults. He said is it good therapy for the kids to feel the love these dogs have to give them.

Off we go again, now with only a 15 minute "riposa" when we get back to our hotel. We moan and groan that we need more time to relax after such a wonderful time and meal. Marcello laughs and says, "There should be a new Olympic Sport ... complaining! You would win gold medals." We all held our sides because it hurts too much to laugh!

After a very quick freshen-up, we waddle back to the van and drive to Loretello where we meet the very kind and knowledgeable Giuditta. We are there to taste her wine, honey, and olive oil.

(I'll add here that she also owns The Agriturismo Montefiore Cantine Politi. We peaked inside a few of her rooms and they all looked lovely).

Giuditta has four varieties of olives which she produces, each with its own characteristics. Her olives are Leccino, Frantoio, Raggia and Mignola (I think, I can barely read my own writing ... too much vino).

We learn a lot about the olive oil making process and enjoy the different types. We also do a tasting of acacia and chestnut honey along with "young" and "old" pecorino cheeses. All of us agree that we like best the combination of aged percorino, acacia honey and her 2009 Verdicchio white wine. Seriously folks this is why God invented elastic waistbands!

After our visit, we drive to the small hamlet of Loretello. We visit its medieval castle and feast our bulging eyeballs on the absolutely amazing view. Sadly, for me, my camera battery dies a slow death so I don't have many photos but rest assured I can hear the clicking of cameras around me so not to worry ... I'll get copies!

Since we are with Marcello and Rafaella, they, of course want us to now eat more food and drink more wine! We do not want to complain, si si?

We drive to the very small village of Nidastore di arcevia (Ancona). If I remember correctly, Marcello mentioned that this little village is very popular with the Dutch. Go figure. Anyway, we are all quite full from the previous meals of the day, but manage to drink more wine. I share a grilled vegetable plate with Raffaella and also vegetable soup. (Osteria Nido dell'Astore).

Back at the hotel, we buona notte each other and I call my sister back in New Hampshire. I wish she was with me!

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