So, I guess not many people in US are intimately familiar with truffles those exquisite, aromatic and very expensive mushrooms which can turn most simple dishes (think “macaroni and cheese”) into a real delicacy. If you wonder why are they so expensive, here is a very simple answer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RQ1nY51txoA
Perhaps the best country to experience and enjoy the variety of truffles’ incarnations (white and black, summer and winter) and applications (freshly shaved on pasta, used in various sauces, as flavor in oil or salt) is Italy. And among Italy’s various areas, Umbria is especially known – and praised – for variety of local dishes based on truffles. Just to let you know, the best time to enjoy truffles in Italy is September-November – the window of time when one can get fresh truffles. And so, I am off for “truffle hunting and enjoying” in Italy. Together with my brother (he will come from Moscow) we will “target” several local producers and small towns in Umbria and Lazio which have long-standing traditions of truffle industry. The ultimate destination will be the town of Campoli Appenino in Lazio. This weekend, local folks organize truffle festival: cooking classes, demonstrations and, of course, plenty of degustations of various dishes with truffles. But even without truffles, Campoli Appenino is very worth visiting. Perfectly preserved medieval hill-town which still not discovered by the tourists. It is built around giant caldera/carst dolina which is right in the middle of the town. A few years ago, five wild bears were brought there and “planted” on the bottom of caldera and so a “bear sanctuary” emerged right in the middle of the town. Check it out: http://atinaitaly.com/bears-campoli-appennino/
Weather permitting, we will also check out the wild Canyone of Vallone Lacerno – beautiful narrow valley with powerful stream of water: http://atinaitaly.com/canyon-vallone-lacerno-campoli-appennino-pescosolido/
But clearly, truffles will be our focus in Campoli and for a very good reason. Here: http://atinaitaly.com/truffles-tartufi-campoli-appennino/
Day One: you really should visit Trevi
It was an amazingly easy day. Everything was surprisingly on time: I mean “on time” in Italy, where the things are rarely on time. So, I got to FCO (Fiumicino) airport, met my brother and then we drove to the famous Mari Fedele truffle family: https://marifedeletartufi.com
The unexpected surprise was meeting Patriarch of the family: Fedele.
Further, we were given a very rare chance to walk into cellar and watch processing of those precious mushrooms found and picked a few hours before
From left to right: my brother Vladimir, me, “Patriarch Fedele,” Paolo (his son). All truffles in front of us are freshly collected. And then we were off for a night to Trevi – the town I would recommend to anyone:
Trevi is one of those “hidden gems” in Umbria where one still can embrace the local life the way it was for decades and with most families living in the same town for generations. In addition to its architectural beauty and stunning location, Trevi has a number of important religious sites. Perhaps, most important is the church called Madonna Lacrine (Madonna of Tears). Here is amazing story about this church: https://www.umbriatourism.it/en_US/-/santuario-della-madonna-delle-lacrime-di-trevi
And the “crown” of the day came couple of hours later: the dinner at a small restaurant called La Vecchia Posta
I eat there before, but…not in truffle season. The ultimate choice were made in house ravioli with freshly shaved truffles
There are several good options to spend a night in Trevi, but my ultimate choice is a private apartment right next to the main square. It is called Twins Storical Apartment and indeed it is run by two cheerful twin brothers Paolo and Luca. The apartment is in 15th century building and consists of two stories:
Day Two: Embracing Amazing Nature and Fabulous Food
We arrived to Campoli Appenino perfectly on time: right at noon. Unfortunately, the weather turned rainy and windy and, hence, temptation was: have a nice lunch, go to our B&B and relax. Instead, we drove to Lago di Barea – a beautiful lake, extremely popular and, subsequently, extremely crowded with tourists in summer. But today, it was for us only (literally). We hiked – despite occasional drizzle – around enjoying truly spectacular late fall colors.
Couple of hours passed quickly: we were lost in this scenery and our conversation. Suddenly, we realized that we are wet, cold and it gets dark. So, we jumped in the car, drove back to Campoli Appenino, went to my favorite La Stuzzi Cantina and enjoyed a loooong supper of several dishes, but – inevitably – covered with freshly shaved truffles:
Good night! The truffle festival starts tomorrow.
Day Three: The Weather Was Bad
Unfortunately, it was raining pretty much the entire day. The scenery was – surprisingly – still very appealing, but it was not fun to walk under the rain..
However, when one walks under constant drops, a lot of “philosophical” thoughts emerge in one’s mind. I saw this classic Fiat parked on the side of the road and suddenly thought: well, Italians spend easily plenty of money on good food and wine, definitely nice clothes, and long vacations. And, yet – unlike Americans – they might be fairly “ascetic” when it comes to cars
This way too long “meditation” near the Fiat was rewarded with amazing sunset over Olive tree garden
Naturally, there were plenty of “truffle related” experiences today, but these three (not connected to truffles) were more important..
Day Four: the Abbey of Monte Cassino
Enough truffles for a while. It is Sunday and I head for a liturgy/mass to the famous Abbey of Monte Cassino – the first house of the Benedictine Order, Monte Cassino has been established by Benedict of Nursia himself around 529. It was for the community of Monte Cassino that the Rule of Saint Benedict was composed. Essentially, Monte Cassino is seen by many as “cradle” of Western monasticism. The Abbey has a dramatic position on the top of a mountain: it takes about 10 km zig-zaging road to arrive to the top. The mass was amazing: shining vestments, elaborate organ performance, beautiful monks’s singing.
Unfortunately, the day was grey and rainy. Yet, there was some particular beauty in the “rainy colors.”
And then we drove along the Garigliano river which separates Lazio from Campania. It is the area known for its geothermal waters and hot springs. Look at this tropical vegetation.
It is late afternoon and we are very hungry. Luckily, the lunch is also late in Italy: