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Olive Oil and Truffles: Umbria's Diamonds



OLIVE OIL

Umbria is the only region of Italy's 20 regions which boasts only DOP olive oils. DOP ("denominazione origine protetta") signifies that the specific item in question may be produced only from ingredients from that specific and limited area. In respect to olive oil, therefore, the olives in the Umbria's DOP olive oils can come only from the very limited area specifically indicated on the label. The Umbrian olive oils are considered the best. Reason? An agronomist friend of mine has explained that of all Italy's olive-oil-producing regions, Umbria has the coldest climate, instrumental in inhibiting the growth of parasites which might attack the trees.

Alain Ducasse, arguably Europe's greatest chef, seems to agree to the superlative quality of our Umbrian olive oil: the olive oil of Spello is on the table of all of his world-renowned restaurants.

TRUFFLES:
The truffle has always been the richest and most refined element of Mediterranean cuisine. Certainly not desired for its beauty - it resembles a measily rotten potato - the truffle grows underground, like the potato, far from light and air, taking its nourishment, like other mushrooms, from the forest undergrowth. Above-ground mushrooms are called epigei, whereas the truffle - an "underground mushroom" is an ipogeo (belonging to the Tuber family). How can the truffle - compressed as it is underground - liberate its spores so as to reproduce? The ipigei mushrooms need only drop the spores onto the forest floor and insects and animals, wind and rain, will then see to dispersal. But Nature has given the truffle an invaluable survival tool: its perfume. When mature (and only then), the truffle emits an unmistakeable and intense perfume, capable of widespread subterranean diffusion. The perfume rises to the surface and entices the highly-developed olfactory sense of animals, eg, pigs and dogs. Here in Italy, dogs are trained as cani tartufai. No special breed in particular - a good nose is what counts and the skill of the dog's trainer. Please see article Rino Stalks the Truffles.

The most prized truffle is the Tuber Magnatum or the white truffle of Alba in Piedmont and Acqualagna in the Marche, characterized by its intense aroma. Prices of this truffle can soar to 3,000- 4,000 Euro per kilo. Our black truffle, Tuber Melanosporum, emanates a pleasing aroma and excellent flavor, especially when used in prized dishes of our Umbria cuisine: from black truffle risotto to fettuccine with truffles to simple bruschetta with shaved black truffle and our world-famous olive oil.
Black truffle season is in full force now, peaking at the end of December.

TRUFFLE FESTIVALS:
Join "the locals" in tasting truffle dishes, attending conferences on truffles (but in Italian!), cheering on truffle dogs as they compete in digging up truffles, and even in truffle hunting at the annual Umbrian Mostra/Mercato ("show/market") events in Gubbio (October), Città di Castello, Fabro (near Orvieto), Valtopina (all in November). Happy to send you further information on these events. Feel free to request further details.