We are all off truffle hunting today. We start early as it is a bit of a drive to San Giovanni d’Asso. We are to meet the famous lawyer and white truffle hunter “Fabio Capitani”. The ride is smooth as we wend our way through the countryside so familiar to me now. We arrive outside the village. Two men await us in small cars. Surprisingly it isn’t too secretive so far – cautious, yes but not exceptionally so. They motion to us to follow and take off at a breakneck speed in their little sprite while we do our best to keep up lumbering behind in the “van”.
Sometime later, after a flurry of calls, we reconnect with the duo and find them casually relaxing by their cars in the middle of nowhere. I swear I can see a slight smile on Fabio’s lips. We dust ourselves off (metaphorically anyway) and try to regain our composure. Introductions take place, the dogs are released and we head off down a steep path towards a wooded area. Fabio has two dogs, the more experienced Leila and little Stella (truffle hunter in training). We reach the woods and the dogs run off with Fabio in close pursuit and us somewhat behind. Results! The dogs have found something. Fabio digs around by the root of the tree under Leila’s direction and pulls up a white truffle. Well it is called that but it certainly isn’t white and only my vivid imagination can conjure up the idea that one could actually eat these little nodules.
Then we start off again and again the dogs run ahead. The dogs will eat the profits if Fabio doesn’t get there in time so it is a continual race. Over the next hour or so this is repeated until both Fabio and his partner have a satchel full. They tell us the season has just started so the truffles are smallish. We also learn that white truffles are found attached to the roots of pine, popular as well as oak trees. Back to San Giovanni d’Asso, we visit Fabio’s little truffle shop that he has with his daughter, Francesca. The long tables are set and we sit to enjoy the truffle bruschetta she has made for us. As well she serves us the white wine typically served with truffles. I tentatively taste the first. Oh my goodness! It was sensational! The strong smell of the fresh truffle when prepared becomes something soft and smoldering and rich. My taste buds magically come alive as if they have had a lifetime of deprivation!
Everyone having eaten has regained their energy and is alive with chat. We settle in for a good afternoon but it is not to be. We are back out on the street of this tiny medieval town. Our destination is a restaurant in the castle called Locondo del Castello. On arrival I find it is also a beautiful hotel. We are all seated outside under huge umbrellas and everything has that look of casual elegance. Les Eglantines have organized a truffle lunch and I am excited about this possibility. Truffle tartare is followed by truffle risotto, then quail and chicken with truffles; fabulous from beginning to end. Looking around I see signs of exhaustion and before we know it we are once more heading back but this time with a stop in Pienza.
I am looking forward to seeing its architecture as it was deliberately transformed in the 15th century from feudal to Renaissance by the Pope. It is said to be the most perfectly laid out Renaissance town. Walking through the old portals it begins to rain and I head into a little café for a quick espresso. Others have the same idea and soon we are squished together – a United Nations of wet and weary travellers. I decide to head back out, after all it is only water. My first stop is the Cattedrale dell’ Assienta. Built in 1459, I remember that it was only a few years later that Columbus ‘discovered’ America. It is large and simple and quite dark probably due to the rain. In the distance long tiered trays hold glittering candles creating a very medieval feel about it all. Back outside I dash for the nearest door opening and that is how I make it down the street without getting too soaked. I spot a gorgeous men’s clothier and promptly add two soft cotton shirts to my wardrobe. I am imagining handing over these lovelies to my husband when we meet in Paris. He will love their softness and rich colours. We have all noticed the beautiful colours especially orange in men’s clothing here, which they pull off magnificently. We have been teasing Gord and Tom, who are seemingly conservative in dress that they should get into the Italian mood with something orange. They usually just smile silently and look away.
Arriving back at I Pagliai I feel exhausted. Tonight we are in the kitchen to make pizzas and Gail’s bean, endive and walnut salad. It is fun just being together, drinking wine and watching. We don’t even move to the dining room but set the table in the warm kitchen and enjoy this time together. It has been quite a day and I turn in early. However, I do manage to write a few words in my diary before my eyes close.