Live Out Your Truffle Hunting Fantasy at This Italian Hotel
Truffles, dogs, and woodland adventures abound in the hills of northern Italy.
If you come to Italy specifically to eat, you likely have some pilgrimages to make. There’s Emilia-Romagna for those who crave cured meats and cheeses, Naples for the pizza purists. And Piedmont? Among those who consider the heady, earthy smell of freshly grated truffle with an unwavering reverence, it’s heaven on Earth.
The region in northern Italy, particularly the Langhe area in the province of Cuneo, has long been recognized as perhaps the world’s best hunting ground for truffles. The soil in its rolling hills is rich with limestone and mineral salts, which produces both truffles and wine grapes that are full-bodied and fragrant. Fall in Piedmont is high season for the rare white truffle, and an autumnal visit has been a dream of mine for going on a decade.
Enter Casa di Langa, a sustainable five-star hotel perched in the middle of over 100 acres of working vineyards and private woodlands that are especially fertile for both black and white truffles—an ideal setting for the truffle hunting program that I came to experience. The hotel has partnered with seasoned hunters (or trifulau) Daniele Stroppiana and Marta Menegaldo of Bianco Tartufi (and their impossibly adorable Lagotto Romagnolo dogs) to lead guests on a wild, sometimes messy romp through the woods to find the elusive edibles.
My morning truffle hunt started with a thoughtful request for my rain boot size, so I could better handle any sticky conditions in the mud. Once properly attired, my friends and I headed outside to meet third-generation hunter Stroppiana and his petite pup Bianca. From the hotel’s lobby, it was just a few minutes walk to the property’s private woods; Bianca tore off after a faint whiff of truffle smell almost immediately. We galloped down the hill after her, Stroppiana armed with both dog treats and prosciutto as rewards, depending on what variety of truffle she found. Later he told me that his Lagotto Romagnolos are raised from infancy to love the smell of truffles, which are placed on their mother’s teat as soon as they begin to nurse. As the puppies get more mobile, they learn to play hide and seek with a full truffle—”Not a white one, though!” he stipulated—receiving a dog treat as a reward for finding it under a pile of leaves or branches.
While you may have heard of truffle hunting pigs, dogs have become more popular in recent years. “They have an incredible sense of smell, they’re easy to train, and this breed doesn’t have the instinct to follow after wild animals,” Menegaldo explained. Plus, Lagottos’ curly coats, aside from being excellent for cuddling, also keep them warm in the fall and winter, when truffle season is in full swing.
But back to the hunt: Bianca soon started furiously digging with both front paws, ripping tree roots out with her teeth, while Stroppiana intermittently grabbed handfuls of the soil to see if he could smell a truffle. Once it was clear she had found one, we all burst into cheers and applause. Bianca quickly received a treat which served to distract her from eating the truffle itself. I even received the honor of fully unearthing the truffle—a sizable black one—which will go down as one of the most consequential moments of my life.
By the end of the morning, we were fortunate enough to have found multiple black and white truffles, and Bianca was happily stuffed with prosciutto. Because only hotel guests have access to Casa di Langa’s grounds, the hit rate is significantly higher than in other parts of Langhe, where multiple hunters jockey for dominance on the same parcels of land. After the hunt, guests have the option to buy the truffles from the trifulau, and the on-site restaurant Fàula Ristorante can then clean them and serve them over whatever you like. We opted to keep some of the black variety and had them served shaved over a tender cut of pork at lunch. Considering the majority of all truffles in the US are imported, eating one that had been harvested just hours before was a revelation: mushroomy, earthy, and redolent of the soil from which it had emerged.
While a trip to Casa di Langa would be worth it on the basis of the truffle hunt experience alone, there’s far more to do on site than just dig for tubers. Unsurprisingly, the hotel’s wine selection is excellent, and the property even has its own Wine Academy for those looking to go more in-depth about the famed varietals found in the surrounding hillsides. For aspiring pasta makers, there are also cooking classes, which include a visit to the on-site gardens stocked with organic fruits, vegetables, and herbs. And so much of the experience of staying at Casa di Langa is eco-friendly, since the hotel is a member of the Beyond Green portfolio, an exclusive group of properties that adhere to a strict checklist of over 50 sustainability indicators. The environmental consciousness even extends to the Lelòse Spa, which is stocked with locally made Comfort Zone products (I scooped up a medicine cabinet’s worth of their hydrating face masks and moisturizers to bring home to the States).
While late fall may be the best time to visit if you’re interested in hunting for white truffles, the hotel’s program is available nearly all year, save for the month of May and the first half of September, when no truffles are allowed to be harvested, per the official truffle calendar. Stroppiana prefers the second half of the year, July to December, but with different varieties emerging throughout the seasons, there’s really no fallow time to visit. Just be prepared for plenty of puppy licks—a hardship, to be sure.