The Truffle Festival of San Miniato
Autumn is a festive and fragrant time of year in Tuscany. In early October, shortly after the grapes have been harvested and the gentle rains begin, porcini mushrooms sprout to life in our markets and stores. Suddenly, every restaurant in town has new dishes on its menu celebrating these robust funghi. You will find pasta of all shapes and sizes topped with sautéed porcini….or polenta covered in a rich porcini ragu…. and grilled polenta, hearty enough to stand up to a bistecca alla fiorentina sitting next to it on your plate.
Then we move into the olive harvest, a tradition like no other. This is the subject of one of my earlier blogs and a full chapter in Under the Tuscan Thumb.
Finally, mid-November arrives and it is time for truffles! This expensive delicacy becomes available only in the autumn and you need just the right weather, soil type, tree roots for them to hide under, and a dog with a keen sense of smell to find them for you. It must be a thrill for both the truffle farmer and his dog when one of these gems is unearthed. Whether they are black truffles or white truffles, they are prized and valued around the world. And we have them in abundance here in Tuscany.
Just 40 minutes from Lucca is the hilltop town that is famous for its November truffle festival. San Miniato devotes three weekends to closing off the town to cars while it welcomes food and wine vendors from the local area to sell their produce along the winding streets of its historic centre. You can’t walk more than a few metres without someone offering you a taste of their pecorino cheese infused with bits of truffle. Sausages, salami, mortadella…. the list goes on and on….all packed with the earthy flavours of white truffles. Local, artiginal beer producers, snail farmers, and craftsmen line the streets in their market stalls, ready to tempt you with their specialities. It is a glorious event attended by tens of thousands of visitors over the course of the festival.
Meanwhile, in the more formal restaurants in the area, you will find two very popular dishes on the menu in November. Poached eggs with white truffles and tagliolini with white truffles are two of my favourites. I recommend a crisp Vermentino with either one. Buon appetito!