■ 15 November 2009 by James Martin
I’m always looking for new roads and new experiences. The drive from our Lunigiana digs to the Emilia Romagna to the town of Calestano required a fair amount of driving some darn curvy roads. I let Martha do it. She needs the practice.
The colors were marvelous on the trip out. We didn’t stop to take pictures on the way because we’d be coming back the very same way. But alas, it’s November, the height of winter truffle season, and the fog set in with a vengeance in the afternoon, subduing the fall colors. You’ll have to settle for these.
In any case, the road from Berceto (a nice little town on the Via Francigena with a very interesting Romanesque church to visit) to the village of Calestano, where the truffle fair is held, had our necks craning at every turn. It was purty.
Despite the fact that Calestano was under the fog all day—and a bit nippy—we found the place hopping. There was an arcade full of truffle vendors selling the famed black truffle of Frango, packed with tables like you see on the right. Each table had an example of the class of truffle (on the right of the picture) and a basket of truffles for sale. Each class had a set market price. Class is largely determined by size. Bigger is better. We all knew that.
Winter truffles have more flavor than summer truffles. White truffles, the kind you find in Piemonte for example, are usually more pungent than black truffles—and cost a whole lot more. After all, we picket up a golfball sized beauty you see on the left for a mere €5.
What do you do at a truffle festival besides buying truffles (or a whole range of artisinal food items sold from open air booths that fill the streets)?
Well, you eat. Every restaurant in town and a few agriturismi out of town were serving a special truffle meal. They were nice enough to give us a table at the bar in the Albergo Mantovani since Italians had the sense to reserve their tables in advance and thus filled the restaurant. We had the fixed-price truffle meal, which was all they were serving unless you asked real nice for something else.
First we had polenta covered with a river of truffled fonduta (hot, molten cheese) over which truffle was grated in thin slices as you see over there to the left. That was the antipasto. Then we had the primo piatto; we both chose risotto with truffles. Then came a wonderful dish of slow roasted veal with a cream truffle sauce, the salad was radicchio with walnuts, and the sweet was a selection of the house cakes. Martha declined the meat course. With wine, water and service the bill came to €60.
Find out more about a small town truffle festival in the Emilia Romagna south of Parma: Fiera Nazionale del Tartufo Nero di Fragno
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