Truffle season begins for Italy’s most innovative family business
The northern Italian region of Piedmont is often called the country’s gourmet capital, famous for such refined delicacies as Barolo wine, decadent artisan chocolates, and truffles. And while Piemonte residents are, rightfully, proud of all of these delights, it’s the truffle that holds top place in many hearts. This ultimate culinary delicacy has an inimitable flavor, a fleeting season, and respect from top chefs around the world. Food lovers who’ve experienced a fresh truffle call it life-changing. Their price is tracked as obsessively as the cost of gold, and it’s not far off—in 2021, prices for fresh white truffles reached $4,500/pound. And the finest truffle in the world is named for Alba, a town in the heart of Piemonte. In the middle of all this, on a mission to share Piedmont’s truffles with as many people around the world as possible, is Paolo Montanaro.
Paolo is the power behind Tartuflanghe, a business his parents started nearly 50 years ago. (The company’s name is a play on words, combining the Italian for truffle, tartufo, with Langhe, the region in Piemonte where they are based.) His father, Beppe, was a local fine-dining chef in the 1950s and ’60s, and he opened his own restaurant, Da Beppe, in Alba in 1968. It soon became the go-to spot for truffle lovers from around Italy, who began turning to Beppe and his wife Domenica, known locally as the “truffle lady,” for their insight into finding and preparing fresh truffles. So, in 1975, they began Tartuflanghe to select the best Alba truffles and sell them around the world.
Today, Tartuflanghe not only sells fresh truffles (on a limited basis, when they’re in season), they produce a cornucopia of truffle-infused products, from honey to olive oil, ketchup, and seasoning salts. On a tour of the Tartuflanghe facility, Paolo proudly shows off the futuristic dehydrators and gleaming apothecary jars in the company’s research & development aisle. Here, they are perfecting the art of preserving this ephemeral delicacy so it can be enjoyed longer. “Fresh truffles, it’s like having a robber in the house—every day they lose weight,” Paolo says. While a fresh truffle only lasts two weeks at most after harvest, Paolo and his team are at work on freeze-drying techniques that will keep sliced truffles tasting good after years on the shelf. Another of their innovations, caviar-like pearls of encapsulated truffle juice, recently captured the attention of Bethenny Frankel, who shared them on TikTok to viral acclaim.
Innovation runs in the family, after all. It was Paolo’s father who was the first person to infuse truffle into dried pasta for the home consumer, an invention that took the culinary world by storm in the early 1990s. Their Tartufissima was awarded Best New Product of the Year at the 1992 Fancy Food Show in New York City and started a major trend of infused gourmet pastas.
But it’s not all space-age technology at Tartuflanghe. The art of finding the truffles is still beautifully hands-on—or paws-on. Trifulau (truffle hunters) work with a trusted dog who is trained to sniff out the fragrant delicacies growing among the roots of oak and chestnut trees. Tartuflanghe cares for 50 acres of lush woodland in the Piedmont region, where trifulau and their dogs hunt, every autumn, for black and white Alba truffles. They’re dug and sorted by hand to ensure the highest quality with the least impact on the land, then taken to the company’s solar-powered facility to be sorted and processed by hand.
An autumn walk with the truffle hunters of Alba should be on every Italian traveler’s bucket list, as it combines beautiful scenery, cute pups, and gourmet food. If you can’t make it for the harvest, though, Tartuflanghe offers the next best thing: incredible truffle products that can be enjoyed anywhere, anytime.