Today, over two decades later, we are sat in the now legendary Restaurant Zigante, in the heart of Livade, enjoying an exclusive menu devised for the Porsche Travel Experience. There are many variations of truffle on the menu here. But it is always the aroma you notice first, when the truffle is freshly grated over your dish – served wafer thin, of course. The aroma is highly distinctive, potent even. Is it reminiscent of honey? Mushrooms maybe? Or garlic? Or a mix of all of them? In truth, there is no comparable smell. Its taste, in contrast, is mild. Less like a flavour storm, more like a fleeting, gentle breeze.
The truffles themselves are hidden from view, jewels to be discovered – only experienced truffle hunters and their highly-trained dogs have the necessary skill to root out these precious subterranean fungi.
Before enjoying this speciality on our plates, we earlier headed to a forest close to Restaurant Zigante, accompanying one of the local truffle hunters, his trusty dog following in his wake. The forest has a mystical feel to it. It even smells different. We make our way slowly through the thicket, the dog leading the way. He stops and sniffs at the foot of a tree, pawing a hole in the ground, and then sniffs again. It’s impossible, we soon learn, to tell the best ground for truffles just by looking. Smell is everything. And that’s why you need the help of an expert four-legged friend.
That truffle hunter extraordinaire, Giancarlo Zigante himself, began training his dog to find this much-lauded fungi back in 1973 – over a quarter of a century before the landmark find that bagged him an entry in the Guinness Book of Records. Round here, they say that dogs have one big advantage over the truffle pigs still used in some other parts of the world – after sniffing out a large fungus, a 15kg dog is much easier to push out of the way to retrieve the find than a 200kg porker.