What is a summer truffle and how they make the best bruschette ever

Driving down through Italy, we stopped for the night in Orvieto.

We sought somewhere to have dinner off the main tourist drag, we saw a narrow alleyway and plunged into it, emerging into a small quiet square.

The beautiful Italian city of Orvieto
The beautiful Italian city of Orvieto

Best bruschette

There was a quiet restaurant there – the Antico Bucchero – and among the specials on the blackboard I noticed tartufi estivi, in particular, served very simply on bruschette. Our waiter confirmed, it being late June, that they were au point.

It was a no-brainer: they came and they did not disappoint. The tartufi arrived, borne, shrouded in perfectly white, crisp napkins, by a man wearing mufti – ‘the patron?’ we wondered. Reverently, he put down his precious cargo, gently pulled back a napkin and revealed a large handful of knobbly, rich-black truffles the size of small plums.

He took one, and shaved off the very lightest, shivering slices which fell softly onto the oil-gilded toasted bread below. There was a light sprinkling of sea salt, a brief drizzle of some rather special-looking olive oil, and he was gone, disappearing into the far depths of the restaurant. We never saw him again.

These bruschette were a revelation, a perfect way to show off the delicate flavour of the truffle.

The Antico Bucchero is in Via de’ Cartari, 4 – Orvieto; Tel: (+39) 0763.341725.

What is a summer truffle?

Well – I have to admit to being very surprised. I’d always thought that truffles were a late autumn treat. So what was this?

The scientific name for the summer truffle is tuber aestivum, and they are sometimes also known as scorzone. Although a deep dark colour, as described above, on the outside, on the inside (the flesh of truffles is known as the gleba) there are many white veins.

They can be found between May and September, near oak, hazel and hornbeam trees. You will find them in the northern Italian regions and comuni of Piedmont, Emilia Romagna, Marche, Umbria, Lazio, Abruzzo, Campania and Molise, as well as in other mediterranean countries.

Summer truffles are NOT Burgundy truffles (tuber uncinatum) which are harvested in the last few months of the year, although they are the same species and very similar. Summer truffles have a slightly less intense flavour, and their gleba is a little lighter in colour.

Tartufi estivi - shave over bruschette, with a shimmer of sea salt and olive oil
Tartufi estivi – shave over bruschette, with a shimmer of sea salt and olive oil.

Advantages of the summer truffle

Because summer truffles have a more delicate flavour that most other truffles, they are commensurately less expensive.  But I think some truffles can be almost overpowering, whereas a very fresh summer truffle treated as described above is something truly splendid.

For more information on and ideas about bruschette follow this link.

For more posts on truffles follow this link.

“Let’s drink the health of truffles black
In gratitude we must not lack
For they assure us dominance
In all erotic alliance
As an aid to lovers’ bliss
Fate pleasurably fashioned this
Rarity divine gods send
To use forever without end”

Robert Hendrickson, The Complete Guide to Aphrodisiac Edibles

Music to listen to as you cook

Try Alison Balsom’s Italian Concertos