The Bucket-List Trip Oprah's Put Off for Years...Until Now
The answer came for me this fall in the form of...a truffle hunt. Yes, I looooove truffles—ever since Lisa Marie Presley sent me a Christmas basket seven years ago filled with cheeses, jams, and truffle salt. Its earthy, woody flavor makes almost everything taste better. I literally don't leave home without it. When I travel, I have a jar, my assistant has a jar, security has a jar, and it's the one thing we request in a hotel: "Can you make sure there's truffle salt in the room?"
When the Oprah show ended, going on a truffle hunt was number one on my bucket list, but in 2011 I was too busy. In 2012, something else interfered. In 2013, I was on a no-carb plan, and since the hunt usually ends with a pasta and truffle feast...I declined.
This time, after being invited by the Balestra family of Sabatino Tartufi, which imports more than 42,000 pounds of truffles every year, I said, "Carbs or no carbs, I'm going."
The Balestras graciously arranged the entire truffle quest with the goal of making it as fun as possible. My fellow food and truffle connoisseurs Gayle and her daughter, Kirby, joined me in Umbria, Italy, for a festive experience beyond our dreams.
The first day, we went with seasoned hunters and their dogs, looking for black truffles. The black ones aren't as delicate as the whites, and the dogs actually sniff them out, dig them up from the ground, then hold them in their mouths until the hunters come and reward the dogs with a treat. It's kind of like hunting for Easter eggs, if the eggs were buried.
Then all the truffles were taken back and thoroughly washed, and a truffle extravaganza ensued: three kinds of homemade pasta, pizzas with truffles, prosciutto, cheeses, chicken roasted on a spit, freshly baked focaccia with truffle honey.
The next day we recovered just enough from our food coma to go out again, this time searching for the whites. They're more fragile, have more flavor, and are more expensive than black truffles. Finding one is like finding a gold nugget, and the competition for them is fierce. Hunters usually have their own territory, but for our visit the Balestras got the others to agree to work together with us.
We were on a mission to find as many truffles as we could in the shortest amount of time. The dogs spread out in every direction in the woods—only this time, instead of digging, they barked. That was the signal for a hunter to come and dig with a thin pointed spade in order not to damage the treasure.
I finished the day with a bag of 15 truffles, almost a whole pound. And because life is better when you share it, I shipped them all back home to dear friends who I knew would appreciate them.
I left Umbria with a feeling of such satisfaction and fun that I for sure can hardly wait till truffle-hunting season returns. I want to do it again!