Truffles, Dogs, Friends, Good Food & Great Fun

Today I took an American family to spend a day with a Tuscan family on their farm. We began with a truffle hunt, following Viola, a 3 year-old Lagotto pup, through mud and late-summer grass as she excitedly dug up four scorzone truffles. It’s impossible to describe how magical and delicate the relationship is between the dog and her proud truffle hunter… an amazing thing to see.

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Mud on our shoes and truffles in our hands, we headed uphill to the Bernini family home where we were given a warm and genuine welcome by Alessio and his mother Ila. Ila is the quintessence of the warm, but no-nonsense, never-stopping, all-doing Tuscan Mommy.

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Ila watching the “newbies” knead pasta dough.

Ila gave us a demonstration of how she makes her rustic homemade pasta and it all looks quite simple – 600 g. of flour, 6 eggs, mix them up and knead it all together. But like with so many “simple” recipes from the Tuscan kitchen, we all found it a bit more complex than she made it seem. There’s that magic touch and know-how that comes with 50 years of experience that simply can’t be fully explained…. But when it was all done, and we’d learned the “kneading dance”, rocking from our heels to toes as we worked the dough, our pasta came out just fine… equally deserving of a quick boil, and a toss with homemade truffle butter and a shaving our treasured black truffles found earlier that morning.

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After kneading our hearts out, Alessio brought a delicious reward: fondue of a soft and creamy local sort of gorgonzola, the Muffone blue cheese made with ewe milk by Giuseppe Carai,  the local artisinal cheesemaker, with a shaving of black truffles to top it off.

To accompany the fondue, Alessio uncorked a bottle of his 2015 Cosimino wine, an incredibly fresh and genuine red wine made from sangiovese grapes aged only in stainless steel. His one-man operation micro winery is extraordinary, producing only a few thousand bottles each year. In fact he almost always runs out of his wine before the next vintage is ready, selling (and pouring) almost exclusively from his farm. This truly natural wine gives simple “organic” a run for it’s money.

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Following the fondue, we headed back to the kitchen and helped make quail eggs pan-fried in truffle butter and the farm’s own organic extra-virgin olive oil. The eggs are placed atop truffle croutons, a dish as simple as it is divine…this is one those delicacies where you can most definitely… not…eat…just…one!

The eggs were followed by one of the best truffle pastas I’ve ever had that focused on the true essence of truffles (truffles, butter, and a bit of grana padano cheese, nothing else)

And to top off the day of indulgence, Ila taught us how to make homemade egg custard. With a twist… saffron!

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intensely flavored and colored saffron custard

Before adding it to the scalded milk  that we later slowly stirred into the beaten egg yolks & sugar, Alessio showed us how to properly prepare saffron: you toast the pistils in a dry pan until your fingers find the pan too hot to stir the saffron, then put them on a small sheet of parchment, fold it over the pistils, and crush them into a fine powder using the back of a teaspoon.

People are often surprised to learn that saffron crocus are one of the most historic crops for Tuscany – originally used more as a textile dye than as a spice. Today Alessio has a few fields dedicated to saffron, each October picking these magically potent crimson strings from the flowers in the wee hours of the morning, and toasting them by a wood fire… and like with everything that the Bernini family do, they take pride in doing this “the right way… just as it’s always been done”.

 

 

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