Go wild for truffle hunting in the hillsides of northern Italy – The Sun

IT'S fair to say that Chicco has one major drawback as a truffle-hunting dog – he will keep wolfing down his discoveries.
A real pain when these fungi cost a fortune.

No wonder owner Sauro Podesta keeps a beady eye on his Springer Spaniel and is poised to sprint whenever he hears frantic digging among the oaks.

But, during our sunny morning walk in a northern Italian wood, he is never cross with his wayward hound who must have earned him thousands over the years by snuffling out the pungent treasures to supply his pizza restaurant.

The black truffles which Chicco is unearthing can cost £216 per kilo but white truffles go for ten times that.

And professional truffle hunters can earn £17,000 a season, meeting demand in a nation defined by its love of food.

With just a handful of truffles in our hour-long trek we are not in that league. But it’s been a joy to watch man and dog, both descended from a long-line of truffle hunters, demonstrate the ancient craft.

Our stay in the charming Emilia-Romagna region started at the hilltop Borgo Conde vineyard which boasts sweeping views of the picturesque slopes.

In need of revival after a silly o’clock morning flight, the sauna and steam room set me up for a refreshing dip in the outdoor pool as dusk fell across the pristine valley.

The near-perfect moment takes a comedy twist when a frog appears and swims alongside me for a few yards before effortlessly pulling away. The show off.

Next day we enjoy a scenic drive to Forlimpopoli to the Casa Artusi — a gastronomic centre devoted to Italian home cooking.

It’s a fitting place of worship in a region where food is not just fuel to keep living but is seemingly the essence of life itself.

The sprawling complex boasts a library, cellar, restaurant and bookshop.

But we are headed for the kitchen where our instructor makes pasta dough using just two eggs and a handful of flour.

Before our eyes multiple variations including tagliatelle, farfalle, squares and tortellini are effortlessly conjured up.

There is also maltagliati which translates as “badly cut pasta” which I sense could be handy when it’s my turn.


GETTING THERE: Flights to Bologna, £23.99 one way. See easyjet.com.
STAYING THERE: A room-only night at Borgo Conde Wine Resort is from £47pp based on two sharing, borgoconde.it. Room only at Grand Hotel Rimini is from £53pp based on two sharing. See grandhotelrimini.com.
MORE INFO: emiliaromagnaturismo.com

It all looks easy enough, however the reality proves trickier. After a messy battle to get a serviceable dough I get overconfident flattening it and it ends up hopelessly wound around itself on the rolling pin.

Time to squash it back into a ball and start again. Once spread it’s fun chopping it into shapes, squirting the cheese filling into the tortellini and pinching in the sides.

It’s not the most elegant creation but it’s all in the flavour isn’t it? And so it proves when our group sits down to enjoy the creations in the sunlit dining room.

The parmigiano-reggiano, ricotta and parsley filling oozes flavour while the pasta has that delightful “al dente” chewiness that is almost impossible to get with the dry stuff.

The exercise convinced me I would repeat this at home — once I’d bought a rolling pin.

A fine buffet of Parma ham, prosciutto, cheeses, with moorish piadina flatbread follows as we learn our Bolognese hosts disown Spag Bol — a creation they blame on American GI rations.

Later, after another delightful tree-lined drive, we arrive in Rimini at the aptly named Grand Hotel.

This seafront 5H venue is an absolute gem, with every nook and cranny revealing its class.

Sweeping down the stairs to the marbled foyer makes you feel like you are in an Agatha Christie movie.

It was also the hangout of film mogul Federico Fellini and the whole area seems in awe of him with murals of scenes from his films dotted around the fishing village.

And there is plenty of the trawlermen’s handiwork to be enjoyed at Club Nautico in the harbour where we enjoy a medley of monkfish, sea bream, salmon and bass.

It would be tempting to linger in this Adriatic city which boasts Roman ruins and nearly ten miles of sandy beach.

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But we are bound for Sant’Agata Feltria where the popular truffle festival is in full swing. Visitors in its buzzing streets and markets outnumber the population of this pretty village.
My first taste of truffle does not go well, as samples of the white version in a creamy spread prove bland while the black salsa version tastes overly garlicky.
But I am soon eating my words at Il Tulipano Nero restaurant where a pork stuffed ravioli with truffle slices has me raving like a foodie convert. But forgive me for looking over my shoulder in case Chicco is ready to pounce.

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