Antonio Degiacomi, president of the National Center for Truffle Studies, reveals the secrets of the other truffle

Nature is generous and offers us more than one hundred types of truffle. But only nine varieties are considered edible and only six are more successful and therefore marketed more frequently. We are talking about the prized white truffle (the famous and highly sought-after Tuber Magnatum Pico of which Alba is the undisputed capital), the prized black truffle, the uncinato, the marzuolo, the brumale and the summer truffle, or scorzone. All these truffles have unique shades of colour, taste and aroma which make them special and help to distinguish them from each other. But above all, they have different harvest seasons.

And it is precisely starting from these characteristics that on the hills of Langhe, Monferrato and Roero discussions began on the opportunity to enhance not only the delicious white truffle, but also the other jewels that are hidden underground in Southern Piedmont. Starting with the prized black truffle: almost ignored by our culinary tradition, in France it is one of the most sought-after products.

Is it time to reverse the trend? We asked Antonio Degiacomi, president of the National Center for Truffle Studies based in Alba.
“Relaunching the promotion and consumption of other varieties of truffles, in addition to the prized white one, is undoubtedly an important challenge to offer new gastronomic and tourist ideas to the Piedmont hills. But first of all we need to clarify, to avoid confusing consumers”.

Can you help us?
“Let’s start with the prized black truffle, i.e. the Tuber Melanosporum Vitt: it is a very popular product all over the world and equally appreciated in international restaurants. The harvesting season runs from mid-November to mid-March, but it is now also harvested in the southern hemisphere, particularly in Australia, and is therefore available almost all year round, thanks also to a wider possibility of conservation. It is used in the kitchen for the preparation of sauces and in various processes, but it is almost never used fresh. In our area, it is widespread above all in the Alta Langa, in the Cuneo area and in the Cebano area: territories that could value it much more than is done today, also taking advantage of a certain propensity for winter tourism. As far as the Albese and Asti areas are concerned, however, I believe that space is a bit limited, both because in part the harvesting season coincides with that of the white truffle, and because in the winter months the hills of the Langhe, Monferrato and Roero take a little breath”.

The black summer truffle instead?
“The harvesting period of the summer truffle or scorzone, whose scientific name is Tuber Aestivum Vitt, does not overlap with that of the other varieties: in fact, this type of truffle only grows in the warm season, from mid-May to the end of August. It is the most widespread variety in the world, but it has always been given little consideration in cooking, also because it tastes more like epigeal mushrooms and does not have a particularly intense aroma. However, in recent years the attention for this product in our area has grown a lot, hand in hand with the increase in summer tourism. Today the black summer truffle is considered an opportunity to satisfy those consumers who, attracted by the fame of the Tuber Magnatum Pico, ask to consume the truffle even out of season. In this sense, it can be a valid alternative within everyone’s reach, but it must be presented clearly and carefully, so as not to generate misunderstandings. The same goes for the hooked truffle, or winter scorzone, which is harvested from the beginning of October to the end of December”.

In short, truffles all year round?
“It is a slogan that other regions of Italy, starting with Tuscany and the Marches, are already using with some success. I don’t know if it’s a formula that is also suitable for Southern Piedmont, where the white truffle is the undisputed and inimitable king of autumn cuisine. However, it is correct to value everything we have and explain it well to consumers. After all, there are those who can afford the consumption of fresh lamellated truffles at the restaurant and there are those who are looking for sauces and jars, which have a large market. These are different logics, all worthy of attention. Also because the fame of these territories is increasingly vast and it is necessary to know how to satisfy all palates”.

by Roberto Fiori