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Giancarlo Marini explaining the process of refining

After driving along the two-lane highway winding between the craggy cliffs of the Gola del Furlo canyon, you might be tempted to pass Acqualagna, a town of 4,000 residents in Italy’s Le Marche region.

At first glance, the town offers little more than a small tree-lined piazza that charms the fatigued traveler with wooden benches and the coolness of its sun-thrown shadows.

Digging beneath the town’s sleepy appearance, however, reveals the monumental allure of this city: the reason why 80,000 ‘pilgrims’ each fall assemble in the town’s narrow streets. The travelers come to celebrate the new season of the white truffle harvest in a town that produces 70 percent of the national supply of both white and black truffles.

The town’s unremarkable facade mimics the truffle’s deceptive appearance. A quick analysis of the lumpy exterior of the white truffle, a kind of mushroom that grows underground and ranges in size from a golf ball to a baseball, might discourage most people from developing an appreciation for the funghi.

Yet because of the salty, rich flavor that explodes on the palate, chefs use whites truffles — as well as the pockmarked black truffle — to infuse their culinary creations with flavor and prestige. Despite the powerful musky fragrance that causes truffle-store visitors to either smile and breathe deeply or exit with haste, one kilogram, or 2.2 pounds, of white truffle sells for €3,000 in Italy and for €8,000 in America.



Scorzoni (Black Summer Truffles)



“Only Italy has the conditions of hot and cold air that fluctuate according to the white truffle’s needs,” said Bartolucci-Marini, co-owner — with her husband, PierGiorgio Marini — of the 30-year-old truffle production company Acqualagna Tartufi. “We have a climate that allows snow to seep into the dirt where the truffle is growing and then the Mediterranean sun warms it.”

While the black truffle is considered less valuable than the white because of its weaker flavor, one kilogram of black truffles within two to three days of harvest could still fetch €300 in Europe.

Black truffles may be found also in Spain and France, and even in some places in the United States, but the edible kind of white truffles only grows in Italy, said Emanuela Bartolucci-Marini, her smile and eyes sparkling while she explained the complexity and delicacy of tartufi.


Umberto Marini, a scientist who has nurtured a passion for truffles over 40 years, explained that the “classic white truffle zone” is between Sardinia and the Balkans, placing Italy in the “heart of this area.”

The elusive growth of truffles beneath the earth, obscured from sight by up to 30 cm of dirt, contributes to their high price tag. Seasonal prices are related directly to the quantity of truffles found: 50-100 grams makes a good harvest and means that prices will be ‘reasonable.’

Because of the financial payback of finding and selling truffles, few Acqualagnese abstain from truffle-hunting, a modern method of hunting for gold.


Laboratory worker


“Aside from the mayor and the priest,” said Bartolucci-Marini, “everybody hunts truffles, even mothers with children.”

In some parts of southern Italy, competition for truffles can drive people to damage a neighbor’s car or to kill the highly trained truffle hunting dog, whose cost ranges from €5,000 to €30,000.

But in Acqualagna, Bartolucci-Marini quickly added, while people will protect their interests for next year’s hunt by waiting until 3 a.m. to find their truffle locations in the secrecy of night, neighbors do not disrespect each other or overstep boundaries in the name of truffles.


“You find that behavior farther south of Le Marche but here we are just trying to find the truffles, not harm other people,” said Bartolucci-Marini.

Prepared Truffles

Jar of truffles from the Marini Azzolini Tartufi Laboratory


While Le Marche officials do not labor to preserve public peace during the truffle-hunting seasons, biologists and legislators have taken the initiative to prevent environmental harm to the delicate ecology that produces the town’s livelihood.

In order to ensure a healthy regeneration of truffles each year, truffle-hunters must lightly brush the dirt off their truffles over the hole from which they are extracted, said the petite Bartolucci-Marini. They then fill the cavity with the same dirt they dislodged. That ensures the replacement of spores that will produce next year’s truffles.

There are also certain times when Acqualagna forbids truffle-hunter and tourist alike to enter known truffle-cultivating areas so as to avoid overuse and abuse of the land. Violators face up to a €4,000 fine. During this period, Acqualagna looks to Abruzzo for any additional truffles, if the town’s supply runs out.

For many families in the Le Marche and Abruzzo regions, truffle-hunting is a tradition that is folded not only into the fabric of their locale but also into their family heritage.

Truffle Production in Acqualagna, Italia


For more information on Acqualagna, Italia

The Cagli Project 2005

Story by Monica Hortobagyi

Photographs by Lisa Sepulveda

Movie by Allie Doyle

Web design by Berit Baugher

“It’s an activity that you take from your parents,” said Giancarlo Marini, owner of the second-generation truffle shop and laboratory Marini Azzolini Tartufi, and brother of PierGiorgio Marini. “My grandfather started this tradition by becoming a truffle-hunter.”

Forty years ago, the only Marini truffle enterprise was that of Giancarlo’s grandfather selling his freshly harvested truffles. Today, the laboratory boasts modern technology for processing truffles into the finely chopped truffles in oil that are sold to restaurants or name brands like Barilla pasta

“The hardest part of the process is sorting the truffles that will be sold fresh from those that will be processed,” Giancarlo Marini said.

Truffle size and integrity influence how manufacturers will use the mushrooms. Truffles that are excessively small or that are damaged while being unearthed are the mushrooms that will be transformed from broken fragments into the specialty products like truffle cream sauce for pasta, truffle-flavored olive oil or truffle-speckled cheese.

“You have to have a passion for [truffle-hunting] because you don’t have a holiday,” said Bartolucci-Marini, shaking her haphazardly blond-streaked red hair and using emphatic hand gestures that underline the possibility of sacrificing vacation. “On Christmas Day, if you have to look for truffles, you go.”

“It’s a way to keep a link with nature,” Bartolucci-Marini continued with quiet pride, standing in her clean and well-ordered sun-strewn shop on the piazza corner where each green and gold jar label faces out, arranged perfectly and meticulously.

“Because nature gives us life.”