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We Went Truffle Searching in Italy With Chef Nancy Silverton. Right here’s What Occurred.

We Went Truffle Searching in Italy With Chef Nancy Silverton. Right here’s What Occurred.

I’m standing in the Umbrian forest and Nancy Silverton is holding one of the largest white truffles I’ve ever seen. The chef—with the help of our truffle-hunting guide, Michele Filosi, and Argo, his Lagotto Romagnolo—had just pulled the fungus from the ground, where it had been hiding under layers of leaves and dirt, waiting for Argo to sniff it out.

Truffle hunting is serious—and dirty—business. White truffles, which are in season from about September to December, sell for thousands of dollars per pound. Black truffles, sold from December through March, are typically in the high hundreds of dollars for the same amount. Those lucrative prices are reflective of the fact that you can’t just spot a truffle while walking through the woods: Dogs like Argo are trained specifically to hunt out the fungi in the wild, leading their owners to highly prized, delectable payloads.

I had ended up in the small Italian commune of Panicale in early December to spend time with Silverton and see whether we may be among the lucky few to unearth white truffles toward the end of their season. We were joined by about 10 others from Europe and North America, loyal Marriott Bonvoy members who had bid close to 1 million points to join the journey. (The trip was one of Marriott Bonvoy’s so-called Moments, which allow members to bid or redeem points for once-in-a-lifetime opportunities. Upcoming trips in the culinary realm include a private Maison Mumm Champagne experience in Reims, France, and a meal and kitchen tour at Thomas Keller’s Michelin three-starred French Laundry.)

Silverton looks on as Argo and his owner dig for a white truffle.

Marriott Bonvoy

Silverton, the chef behind Los Angeles’s Michelin-starred Osteria Mozza and the woman credited with introducing artisan bread making to America, is no stranger to the Italian countryside. She’s owned a home in Panicale for 23 years, and she spends several weeks there in the summer (her Fourth of July party is can’t-miss) plus a couple weeks around Christmas. It’s as cozy and well decorated as you’d expect from someone who’s become as well known for her eclectic style and hair accessories as her cooking. “It’s a place that I come where I just feel like I’m home,” Silverton told me about Panicale as she took a break from cooking a multicourse feast for our group. “Living a very simple life is what speaks to me.”

To gear up for our excursion the next day, Silverton welcomed us all into her abode for a home-cooked meal that would put your next family holiday to shame. Affettati misti (cured meats, cheeses, nuts, olives, crackers) and antipasti (buffalo mozzarella, olive tapenade, artichokes, grilled bread) were followed by wood-fired fish and steak, probably the most flavorful that any of us had ever eaten. The star of the show, though, were the nine different vegetables Silverton had prepared, from mushrooms to fennel to beans indigenous to Umbria. They were all simply prepared, as Silverton is wont to do, but full of depth, the kind that makes you wonder if you could, just maybe, be a vegetarian after all. (I know I couldn’t, but hats off to those of you who are.)

By the end of the evening, you basically had to roll us all back to our hotel just down the road (Rastrello, a lovely boutique property that also produces its own olive oil). But it was exactly the fortification we needed for the next day, as we trekked through the woods with Filosi and Argo. Along with his brother Andrea, Filosi runs Seven Café, a quaint Italian restaurant that also leads truffle-hunting expeditions. While Filosi was sure to make no guarantees about our search, he needn’t worry: Argo uncovered two substantial white truffles, which hopefully resulted in a lunchtime treat for the pup.

Silverton is a self-professed fan of white truffles, telling me that—to her—black truffles or summer truffles don’t have a lot of flavor. When in season, she has the white version on the menu at Osteria Mozza for $30 per gram, with a recommended three grams per dish. She’s less likely to cook with them in her own home, but she of course has tips for amateur cooks who want to enjoy the delicacy in the comfort of their own kitchen or show off to their friends and family.

Nancy Silverton preps for dinner at her home in Panicale.

Silverton preps dinner at her home in Panicale.

Marriott Bonvoy

“When you buy something and use something that that’s special,” she told me about white truffles, “it’s got to be the star of any dish that you want to use it on.” Her recommendations include soft scrambled eggs, potatoes, or a fresh, egg-based pasta with a simple butter sauce or Parmigiano Reggiano. On top, lots and lots of shaved truffle: “If you’re going to use truffles, I think you have to really use them,” Silverton said. “It’s something that you have to be very generous.”

As for the more technical aspects, not everyone is finding fresh truffles out in the wild like we were, so you have to seek out a reliable source. In L.A., Silverton is a fan of the Cheese Store of Beverly Hills. “They’re really good about who they buy from and when they sell them and the quality of what they sell,” she said. If you’re not local, she suggests becoming friends with a restaurateur who uses truffles, because many would be more than happy to sell you the ingredient.

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While we didn’t eat the truffles we found in Umbria, we did return to Seven for an indulgent lunch of Silverton’s preferred eggs and pasta with abundant truffles on top. I can only hope that some of the restaurant’s guests got to enjoy the fungi of our—mostly Argo’s—labor later in the week.

After a truly magical few days in Italy, real life—with its lack of white truffles, wood-fired meats, and intimate time spent with one of America’s best chefs—doesn’t quite compare. But at least I know that next time white-truffle season comes along, I can buy some of the fungi, whip up some easy scrambled eggs, and transport myself back to that December weekend via taste alone. I think Silverton would approve.

Source: Robb Report

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