It’s been called the star of Tuscan autumn: we’re of course referring to the truffle and, specifically, to the white truffle from the San Miniato hills. A truffle can essentially be defined as a hypogeum (underground) fungus. This term refers to a fruiting body that the fungus’ vegetative system produces each year for the propagation of the species.
The white truffle of San Miniato has a shiny outer layer, a clear yellow or light greenish color, and a pulp that may range in color from chestnut brown to hazel, with clear veins that disappear when cooked. Its dimensions vary and it has a pleasant but strong aroma, resembling the scent of fermented cheese.
The San Miniato hills are a perfect environment for the growth of the Tuber Magnatum Pico (the scientific name for the famous white truffle). The vegetation and trees of the area generate an ideal climate and an ecosystem left uncontaminated even today. This area is home to an abundance of white truffles, the most prestigious of the tubers, and a substantial truffle harvest takes place between September and December, yielding dozens and dozens of kilograms’ worth.
Between January and April, however, in the same area, it’s time for the Marzuolo Truffle (Tuber Albidum Pico); and from May to September, the Scorzone black truffle (Tuber Aestivum Vitt.).
The towns home to the “tuber” straddle the provinces of Pisa and Florence. Among them are Bientina, Capannoli, Chianni, Lajatico, Lari, Palaia, Volterra, Barberino Val d'Elsa, Cerreto Guidi, Certaldo, Gambassi, Montaione and Montespertoli.
San Miniato is one of Europe’s most expansive and prosperous areas for truffles, and the white truffle of San Miniato, the Tuber Magnatum Pico, is the most prestigious of the area’s fruits. Regulated by a strict policy and by a regional law that clearly sets the terms for harvesting and sales, the white truffle of San Miniato has been well-known since medieval times. But it’s only in the last 100 years or so that the harvesting activities have been organized by domestic groups, known as the tartufai, or truffle hunters.
In 1982 in San Miniato, the Associazione Tartufai delle Colline Sanminiatesi (San Miniato truffle hunters’ association) was founded. It is Tuscany’s largest group of its kind and the second largest at the national level. Its goal is to protect the product and safeguard its environment, aiming continually to valorize the long history and culture of the truffle.
Truffle hunting is not a trade for just anyone—it’s a skill that’s generally passed down in families from generation to generation. It’s been this way for years in San Miniato, too.
Fundamental to this enterprise are truffle hunting dogs, who faithfully accompany their masters on the quest for hidden treasure in the deep woods of the San Miniato hills.
- Nicknamed “Cibo da Re” (Kings’ Food), the White Truffle of San Miniato has earned its rights to this moniker and is celebrated in a major fair and exhibition every November.
- The world’s largest white truffle, weighing in at 2,520 kg, is in the Guinness Book of World Records and was discovered in San Miniato on October 26, 1954 by a truffle hunter from Balconevisi. The story goes that this truffle was gifted to then-U.S. president Dwight D. Eisenhower.
- In terms of cuisine, an absolute must-try is Tagliolino al tartufo bianco delle colline sanminiatesi (San Miniato white truffle tagliolino): this is a dish that must follow very specific rules. The dough for the tagliolini, for example, must be prepared with soft wheat flour or durum wheat bran, and the ingredients cannot contain any artificial aromas.