Babbo | Truffle Hunter, Angihari, Tuscany, Italy
'If you’ve ever looked at your broccoli and quietly encouraged it to get growing, you’ll understand the level of excitement and passion with which Babo talks to his trufﬂe hounds.' ... words below photos ...
As a mid-August rising sun pushes over the Tuscan hills of northern Italy, we’re driving through the deserted streets of a steep medieval town called Anghiari. We meet our contact Manuele and continue our journey for about 20 minutes until the car crunches across a stone driveway and stops. Across a ﬁeld, the sound of excited barking draws our attention to a shed within an allotment. An authoritative voice issues commands in Italian and the dogs fall silent. The voice, which will become familiar to me over the next few hours, belongs to Babo, Manuele’s father and a registered trufﬂer. Babbo selects two dogs, an older black and white splashed mongrel called Leelo, and a young, elastic-looking pedigree trufﬂe hound, a Lagotto to give it its proper title, called Roody. We follow Babbo’s small blue Fiat up into the hills and turn into a scrubby patch of woodland beside the road. The dogs leap out and our trufﬂe hunt begins.
If you’ve ever looked at your broccoli and quietly encouraged it to get growing, you’ll understand the level of excitement and passion with which Babbo talks to his trufﬂe hounds. His voice alternatively booms with fatherly approval and softens with admiration as he coaxes and caresses them with commands and compliments. They weave in and out of Babbo’s constant verbal direction as they slip through brambles, bound over rocks and around the stems of young oak trees, their noses hugging the ground. All of a sudden Roodi’s nose cements him to a spot of bare, dusty earth strewn with ﬁst-sized chalky rocks. His thin-furred frame is immediately stilled as his nostrils drink in and absorb a telltale aroma. Babbo gently moves the young dog’s body aside, so he can scrabble at the rocks, his constant dialogue encourages Roodi to snufﬂe the trufﬂe as he takes in great inhalations of dusty aroma that cause him to sneeze. Now Roodi is scrabbling at the ground with his paws as if practising running on the spot.
Babbo uses his homemade trufﬂe spade to loosen hard, compacted soil carefully beneath Roodi’s frenetic front feet and suddenly there it is, some 15cm below ground, a dusty, blackened orb. Bigger than a golf ball and smaller than a tennis ball, with its textured, blackened exterior, the trufﬂe looks as though it should weigh more. It feels like a strange fruit carved from wood but yields almost imperceptibly somewhere in its middle when squeezed. I inhale. Sex, malt, nuts, earth, honey, blossom, wind, heat, dust, autumn, a catalogue of fragrant footnotes ﬂood my olfactory senses as, like Roodi, I’m hooked.