Healthy Eating

We're championing fresh food that packs a flavour punch, from salads and vegetable-packed bowls to grains and light desserts.

Subscribe to Gourmet

Subscribe to Australian Gourmet Traveller for your chance to win a $20,000 Flight Centre gift card! Offer ends 24 May 2017.

Gourmet digital

Subscribe to Gourmet Traveller for your iPad or Android tablet.

Fergus Henderson's search for white truffles

After a fruitless search for the white truffle the hunting party takes a different tack, writes Fergus Henderson.

There's an annual trip to Italy organised by Mitch Tonks, a most amicable restaurateur, and his wine merchant, Tim, to go in search of the white truffle. I'd like to point out that we have very little success, even though we go out with a gnarled old man dressed in an outfit that could be found at a theatrical costumiers on the "Piedmont peasant" rack. Every year this ancient fellow asks us back to his cottage to drown our sorrows in rough red wine and sausage, at which point his mate then appears with a huge truffle and within moments, softened by the wine and our disappointing hunt earlier, we find ourselves handing over thousands of euros for his gnarled growth which we then take to a restaurant and have them prepare with fresh pasta, and stewed horse to follow.

There is one technical hitch: we travel in a coach for quite long stretches of time between breakfast, lunch and dinner, which can lead to The Italian Job-factor (it's almost impossible not to start humming the tune; it's a self-preservation technique) and seems to bring out the lad in most of the passengers. After supper last visit, we fell into the only bar in town and much to my amazement it was not long before most of our group had their shirts off, most of them being chefs and therefore revealing pallid white fish-bellies. It made it very clear how the misconception arose that the English abroad are thugs, when in truth everyone in our party was a darling. Even so, if you're an English speaker, it's probably a good idea to give this village a miss for a couple of years until our reputation has been restored, or at least forgotten.

This last trip was low on the truffle-factor but big on the love-and-emotion Richter scale. The biggest tremors of delight registered at Dario Cecchini's butcher shop in Panzano in Chianti, a gem of a place, especially when it had the traditional Tuscan touch of AC/DC blaring from the speakers. We were fed lardo, bread and red wine before taking dinner in Dario's restaurant above the shop, one of the meatiest feasts I can ever recall. There was such generosity and joy from Dario and his wife that by night's end there wasn't a dry eye in the house.

It was a banquet of mighty meat proportions, starting with two kinds of raw meat, then a dish that Dario called Tuscan tuna - my memory might be a little hazy but I believe it was shredded slow-cooked pork. Then comes the whole reason for the meal, the bistecca alla Fiorentina, announced by Dario blowing his wee trumpet (which makes a lot of noise for a small horn). I'm hazarding a guess here, but I think they were giant fore-rib steaks that had been just tickled by the heat of a charcoal griddle. Whatever pastimes these cows had had, they certainly made for a giving mouthful of yum. I don't by any means look undernourished, but as fast as I could eat it my cow quota was replenished and I quickly felt as full as a bull.

And it didn't stop there. The next dish was so splendidly soothing that we joyfully continued: braised pig's trotter, tomato, potato and beans. Then finally a baked potato stuffed with lardo. Phwoar. It was truly amazing how these last courses wriggled around to fit in to the little gaps left by the onslaught of meat - truly a tribute to the wonders of the human body.

It was one of the great lunches, and to top it all Dario announced with great ceremony that he was going to make me a Citizen of the Gastronomic Republic of Panzano. Stuffed and emotional, I was a mess. And then I remembered I still had the white truffle to face at dinner. I've been known to push the restorative powers of Fernet-Branca to their theoretical limits, but putting me to rights after all this wonderment may have been the magical elixir's greatest feat to date. Now, about that truffle…

Illustration Lara Porter

Newsletter

Sign up to receive the latest food, travel and dining news direct from Gourmet Traveller headquarters.

Latest news
Our Hot 100 issue is out now
24.04.2017
Does Newcastle have Australia’s best eclair?
21.04.2017
Seven Italian dishes that shaped fine dining in the 2000s
28.03.2017
Our chocolate issue is out now
27.03.2017
Honey Fingers, Melbourne's inner-city beekeepers
22.03.2017
Seven recipes that shaped 1980s fine dining
21.03.2017
GT
Signature Collection

Find out more about the Gourmet Traveller Signature Collection by Robert Gordon Australia, including where to buy it in store and online.

Read More
Recipe collections

Looking for ways to make the most out of seasonal produce? Want to find a recipe perfect for a party? Or just after fresh ideas for dessert? Either way, our recipe collections have you covered.

See more
2017 Restaurant Guide

Our 2017 Restaurant Guide is online, covering over 400 restaurants Australia wide. Never wonder where to dine again.

See more

You might also like...

Chef's spaghetti Bolognese recipes: L to Z

We quizzed the best kitchen talents on their secrets to the ...

Chef's spaghetti Bolognese recipes: B to K

We quizzed the best kitchen talents on their secrets to the ...

Mother's Day recipes

Mum deserves nothing but the best, so why don't you make her...

Easter recipes

Hot cross buns, a whole lot of lamb, some chocolate treats (...

Classic Italian recipes

From spaghetti Bolognese to lasagne and tiramisu to panna co...

Easter lunch recipes

With the cooler autumn weather, heartier flavours begin to e...

Cupcake recipes

Scaled down to little more than a mouthful, tiny cakes take ...

Thomas Keller's sandwich recipes

America's most famous chef takes the smarts and good taste t...

Grilling recipes

Dust off the tongs, fire up the barbecue, and get grilling w...

Neil Perry's Spice Temple recipes

At his new Spice Temple, Neil Perry calls on the more exotic...

Pickle and preserve recipes

When it comes to last-minute entertaining, a lovingly made p...

15 (shameless) chocolate recipes

Mousse, souffle, mud cake and more... welcome to the dark si...

Sexy salad recipes

A salad can be so good when it's done just right. Check out ...

Recipes from Australia's best chefs

Peter Gilmore's snow egg, Justin North's smoked duck egg wit...

Quick winter meals

Fire up the stovetop with these wintry dishes, ready for the...

get the latest news

Sign up to receive the latest food, travel and dining news direct from Gourmet Traveller headquarters.

×