Italy has the best truffles in the world, and, along with Piedmont, Tuscany has the best truffles in Italy.

Not too far from Pisa, farmer Matteo Giuliani - 'Teo' for short - educates visitors at his truffle farm. A fourth-generation truffle hunter, he's muscular, tanned and bristling with tattoos. His farm consists of 20 hectares of forest, and while the terrain is naturally favourable for truffles, he promotes growth by disseminating spores, in a process known as 'mycorrhization'.

Today, farmers use dogs rather than pigs for hunting these fungi which grow underground near the base of trees. English setters are particularly favoured, but any dog, even mongrels, can be trained - starting from birth when the mother's teats are dabbed with truffle oil to encourage a nose for the scent.Ham & High: Truffles are a fungus which grow underground at the base of trees and can fetch hundreds of euros depending on their size and shapeTruffles are a fungus which grow underground at the base of trees and can fetch hundreds of euros depending on their size and shape (Image: Kerstin Rodgers)

Training takes between two and four years, but the dog's nose tends to tire around two hours into a hunting session, which is why Teo has a large team of 12 animals.

Following Teo into the nearby forest with his dog Bianchi, the hound runs excitedly around the trees and stops suddenly, wagging its tail excitedly and pointing its nose at one spot. Teo strides in with his 'vanghetto', a wooden stick with a tiny spade on the end, and digs, every so often lifting a handful of nondescript dirt to sniff. It is pungent with the scent of truffle, and eventually he locates a harder, more knobbly bit of earth and has to make sure the dog doesn't eat it.

It's October and Teo is searching for black summer truffles, which have a thick skin enabling them to retain moisture during the hot months. Shape is important: a nicely rounded truffle is sought after by restaurants to shave at the table in front of customers. These sell for around 800 euros a kilo. On our outing, we find four truffles of different sizes, ranging in value from 30 to 80 euros. On an average day during the season Teo will find truffles worth up to 1,000 euros.Ham & High: Truffles are never cooked but are used grated or as shavings or can be preserved in oilTruffles are never cooked but are used grated or as shavings or can be preserved in oil (Image: Kerstin Rodgers)

The white truffle season runs from November to January. These are the most valued truffles, worth 5,000 euros a kilo. The soil in Tuscany is well-drained and sandy, which means the fungi do not rot. Truffles, especially the winter white ones, are a Christmas treat and this is when Teo makes most of his money.

How much a year?' I ask. He smiles and says he's "molto fortunata". Very lucky.

Truffle facts

There are three types of truffles in Tuscany: black/summer truffles; white; and 'bianchetti’, small white.

A fresh truffle can last up to 10 days. Do not clean it until you want to use it, this will help preservation. They can be frozen but only if mixed with butter or oil.  Do not cook truffles.

Each truffle takes 3 to 4 days to grow. You can drink red or white wine with truffles – it depends on what ingredients they are cooked with.

Some chefs can be negative about truffle oil. When buying  be aware that too cheap means it's probably synthetic.

Truffles can be used in desserts, vanilla ice cream drizzled with truffle honey is a delicious contrast.Ham & High: Home made gnocchi with truffle shavingsHome made gnocchi with truffle shavings (Image: Kerstin Rodgers)

Mini gnocchi with truffles (serves 4)

These gnocchi are tiny, often called 'chicche' (pronounced ‘kikiye’), meaning 'goodies'. They are not stodgy, cook quickly, and you can enjoy plenty of sauce around each one. Use as much truffle as you can afford. Failing that, add droplets of truffle oil and salt.


For the chicche:

1 kg potatoes, baked and scooped out of their skins while still warm

300g plain flour or 00 flour

150g parmesan or pecorino, finely grated

1 egg

1 tsp salt

100g fine semolina to roll them in

For the sauce:

150g butter

Shavings truffle

salt and pepper


Preheat the oven to 200ºC and bake the potatoes in their skins for 45 to 60 minutes. When you prick them and they are soft inside, remove from the oven.

Scoop out the insides (you can use the potato skins for another recipe, filling them with cheese or beans) and mix with the flour, cheese, egg and salt. 

Form a long sausage with the dough, 1cm wide, and cut into small sections, 1cm long. Place the chicche onto a tray spread with fine semolina so that they don't stick to one another.

When you are ready to cook them, boil plenty of salted water in a medium pan and cook the chicche for a couple of minutes or until they float.

Drain or lift out with a slotted spoon. 

Mix with butter. Add truffle shavings, salt and pepper to taste.

Ham & High: A simple baked egg turns into a luxurious dish with the addition of truffleA simple baked egg turns into a luxurious dish with the addition of truffle (Image: Kerstin Rodgers)

Truffled baked eggs (serves 4)

This is a Tuscan breakfast and can be baked in ramekins. I watched Teo collect fresh eggs from his chickens and keep them in a paper bag with the truffles. The porous shells allow the fungi to perfume the eggs.


4 tsps clarified butter/ghee

4 fresh eggs

salt and pepper to taste

Shavings truffle


Preheat the oven to 200c

Grease the ramekins with the clarified butter.

Crack an egg into each ramekin, taking care not to break the yolk and seasoning with salt and pepper

Bake for 10 minutes. 

Generously add truffle shavings on top of the egg and serve with crusty bread.