it will make your taste buds go wild
Going away for the weekend is extremely refreshing, especially when you have such a unique destination as Meteora. What’s even more unique though is the theme of my excursion: mushrooms and black truffles, edible gold.
Haute cuisine has praised truffles beyond belief. Truffles are rested on velvet pillows in utter regal style, thin slivers are grated on top of the most exquisite dishes, most often used moderately, as a spice. Acquiring a moderate wild tuber for your own use will probably cost you a small fortune. What’s all the fuss about? Their unique woody flavour and the extreme difficulty of locating them in the wild. The truffle hunt, especially in Italy used to take place with the aid of trained pigs, especially praising female ones for their innate ability to dig out the truffles. This practice is much less favoured nowadays, pigs being replaced with the more friendly and cooperative canine breeds such as Laggoto Romagniolo.
But truffles in Greece, I hear you ask, the country that gets 350 days of sunshine a year? Well, if you look north and mainly north-west of Greece you are going to get a very different picture. Dense forests stretch along high peaks and you can observe the moderate climate in all its glory: wet winters and shorter, slightly cooler summers. As for fungi, they grow on, under and around trees truffles have a fascinating two-way relationship with their hosts. They are known to love oak, birch, hazelnut trees but also pine forests, the truffles are getting the carbohydrates from the trees and in return helping them take up mineral salts and water. There are more than 60 species of truffle, not all of them that praised. If you are into gourmet mushrooms, you probably already know about the black truffle and the white truffle, the winter one and the summer one. Most likely you don’t know how and where to look for them, I had no clue myself and I am very happy to have found the experts.
The Natural History Museum of Meteora has dedicated a section just for mushrooms. Whilst the mushroom exhibition is not huge, their expertise in mushroom ecology along with the miniature detail on the species makes it worth for more than just a visit. The museum will guide you from root to plate when it comes to mushrooms and my experience of truffle hunting was exactly that.
The truffle hunt started in the morning, having the museum as a meeting point, we headed straight out to the countryside. The truffle site is less than 15 minutes drive from the town of Kalampaka, strikingly close. That’s where we met Christos Plesiotis, the chef, with Brio, the hunter, an Italian truffle dog of the famous Lagotto Romagnolo breed. I love dogs, but seeing a working dog in action is really something. Brio was running from tree to tree and root to root. We were looking out for a waggy tail, would he find any truffles, would he not? Well, all you have to do is trust this snout, he did find a few, he even managed to swallow a couple of small ones. It’s great to see man and beast working in perfect harmony. Even better when you get to taste the fruit of their labour: truffle pasta in the middle of the forest!
Undoubtedly one of the best mushroom pasta I have ever tasted, full of forest flavours. An experience certainly worth enjoying. I hope you get the chance to meet the Christos and Brio yourself soon, until then, here is a small visual tour of my truffle hunt:
Of course the truffle hunt did not end with pasta. We returned back at the museum for a guided tour, once our taste buds were intrigued we got an appetite to find out more about the mushroom microcosm. I could be gazing for hours the expertly displayed species, more than 200 mushrooms. I would have probably stayed for quite some time if our guide hasn’t prompted us to move on for the tasting session.
Remember I was telling you about the ultimate mushroom experience earlier on? Gathered by local mushroom hunters, the museum has bottled, dried and powdered the most tasty varieties of mushrooms found in the Greek forests. We got to try some exquisite shiitake, boletus in olive oil as well as yellowfoot and black trumpet cantharellus. Of course there is mushroom liqueur and to my surprise, an exquisite spoon sweet, meaty mushrooms with a dainty apricot syrup. Of course I have brought some goodies home and mushroom recipes are on their way.
If you are planning your own excursion in Meteora, check out the truffle hunt experiences organised by the Meteora museum. For more information and bookings you can email them at this address: firstname.lastname@example.org or call on (+30) 2432024959. You are sure to have a very warm welcome, as I did.
from Athens with loveby