But if you are a curious traveler, get a car and drive around the hills of the beautiful Tuscan valleys, and you will find unexpected peculiarities that are not always described in tourist guides.
Sample the Tuscan prugnolo, the white truffle of mushrooms
For example, the Valtiberina (Tiber Valley), in that corner of Tuscany squeezed among the regions of Romagna, Umbria and Marche, is the home of the prugnolo, a rare and precious mushroom greatly appreciated for its intense aroma with hints of hazelnuts and thyme. The particular climate of this area – hot and dry in the summer, and mild and showery during spring and autumn – together with the presence of woods and chestnut forests, gives to the land where Michelangelo was born an incredible abundance of mushroom crops.
The prugnolo was well know during the Renaissance, when it was also known as St. George’s mushroom, because it was believed that, every year, the first prugnolo sprouted exactly on 23rd of April, St. George day.
The round patches of grass that hide these tiny treasures, and the charm of their aroma have generated several legends about witches and satanic dances. Legend has it that, on the mountain pastures of this valley, witches dance their Sabbaths leaving a trace: it might be a “spooky” fantasy, but if you are a searcher, look for the mysterious place where the darker green grass draws a semicircle, and you won’t miss a handful of fragrant prugnoli!
I live in Valtiberina, and I know that it is not easy to find the exact area where mushrooms grow: fungai (mushrooms hunters) are jealous of their secret places, and they will never tell you where these precious and delicious gems flourish. Therefore, the only way to taste something absolutely divine is either going to the sagre (Italian food festivals) that celebrate this mushroom, or finding the best restaurants that serve dishes with prugnoli.
Go to the prugnolo mushroom festival in Pieve San Stefano, Arezzo
The people of a small and charming town in the heart of Valtiberina, Pieve S. Stefano, Arezzo on 3rd and 4th of May will gather in the main streets to organize a celebration of this mushroom and of the other products that are related to spring and the pastures : the sagra del prugnolo.
You will find stools that sell freshly-made cheese in characteristic wicker baskets made by local artisans; exhibitions of old photographs that represent the ancient Italian way of living; men, women and children dressed as shepherds and shepherdesses who dance and sing; but, at the center of all this festival, wherever you are in Pieve S. Stefano, you can find these mouth-watering mushrooms cooked in different ways: my favorite dishes are scrambled eggs with prugnoli, crostini (roasted slices of Tuscan bread) with prugnoli and tagliolini (egg noodles) with prugnoli, while, believe it or not, a famous chef some years ago has even made a prugnolo mushroom ice cream!
If you miss the sagra del prugnolo festival you can always find numerous Tuscany restaurants, where prugnoli are deliciously served:
Il Diario, Via Tiberina 95, Pieve S. Stefano (AR)
La Balestra, Via dei Montefeltro 29, Sansepolcro (AR)
Il Fiorentino, Via Luca Pacioli 56, Sansepolcro (AR)
Il Borghetto at Borgo Palace Hotel, Via Senese Aretina 80, Sansepolcro (AR)
Don’t miss the chance to taste what is usually called “the white truffle of mushrooms”!
Photo of Tuscany landscape originally posted by JackiePix