Hunting Truffles and Finding Friends

She was supposed to know more about the backroads around Monforte d’Alba than I do. It was the sole purpose of inviting her on our trip. But the prissy British woman tagging along in the small illuminated square on the dashboard is just as lost as the rest of us.

“Make a legal u-turn when possible,” she directs us haughtily, an obvious and somewhat condescending piece of advice since we have no other option. Held hostage by her incompetence, Jonathan, our driver and my husband, our passengers and I sigh collectively from the relative luxury of our ride, a three-row Mercedes Vito van. All except Steph, who has taken refuge, from both motion sickness and wrong turns, in the safe harbor oblivion of her Apple earbuds.

We found ourselves at a dead end, sandwiched between a small railway station and a one-story row of rose-colored buildings reminiscent of a too-cheery suburban shopping mall. A man lounged outside one of the doors that lined its flank, his camo pants a stark contrast to the fiery red of his Fiat Uno, calmly having a smoke, watching the show.

Rolling down my window, I stutter in my nearly useless Italian, “Do you know how to get to Via Monchiero Alto?”  In the languid way of Italians, he pulls his free hand from the warmth of his pocket and circles it abstractly above his head, glowing butt hanging from his lips, motioning toward the road rising past the fence beyond the train station. “There,” he said, “It’s just there.”  Ahhh. There. So close, but yet so far.

By the time we had taken our disembodied Kate Winslet’s only good advice and banged a U-ie, our friend has extinguished his smoke, grabbed his keys, and is waiting in the middle of the road. Returning to my window, he asks, “Are you going truffle-hunting? Are you going to Tra Arte e Querce? Come. I’ll take you there.” I smile in relief, he smiles in understanding, heading for his car. We are off.

Kate, you may be beautiful, have kissed Leonardo DiCaprio, won an Oscar and are aging far more gracefully than I ever will, but at this moment an Italian hybrid of Rambo and the Marlboro Man is my hero. We follow, as I dig through my bag for a 5 Euro note, a small gesture of thanks to Camo-Man for his help. Less than three minutes later, we arrive at our destination. I make my offer; he graciously declines with another engaging smile and a shake of his head.


His thoughtfulness is a harbinger of only good things to come. Straight out of central casting, Ezio, our truffle hunting guide, steps from his family’s b+b into the sunshine. Nattily clad in sage colored wide-wale corduroy pants, grey wool flannel sweater and brown leather boots, and covered in a well-worn and liberally stained deep green field jacket, he raises his eyebrows in a wordless salute to his paesano as he smiles at us in welcome. Obviously, being personally escorted by a local is not a rare occurrence in these parts.

Sizing us up, he queries in Italian, “Are you ready to go truffle hunting?” Then, fixated on our feet, he mumbles, “Are you wearing sturdy shoes?” We all look down. “I guess you don’t need a translator,” he opines.


He turns and walks away. We’ve obviously gotten the green light. He ambles toward his truck, flipping open the tail gate at the rear. Reaching into the darkness, he grabs an armload of bastoni, hand-hewn walking sticks, each two meters long, ends smooth with use at the grip, as a small white mutt jumps down and waits at his feet.

Passing the sticks around, he introduces Jolie, our intrepid truffle-scenting hound. We learn that Jolie is one of six dogs used daily here on the private property that Ezio’s wife, Cielia’s family has owned for generations. Ezio has been hunting truffles since he was a boy. He is calm, confident. We are in good hands.

With Ezio and Jolie at the lead, we begin our descent from the hilltop into the valley below. The paths are slick with dew, the colorful beauty of glossy newly fallen leaves obscuring the danger they pose on the steep slope. We’re glad at once for the bastoni, and the crisp smell of Fall in the woods. Ezio describes the property, pointing out oak, white poplar, hazelnut and beech trees, under which both black and the coveted white truffles grow.


I’m distracted by the bounty of wild lettuces and herbs we’re nonchalantly trodding upon. I see chicory, sage, dandelion, arugula and mint, glistening with beaded moisture in the morning sunlight. In a Pavlovian moment, I am craving a salad. Laughing, Ezio points to an area that’s been mowed clean, telling us that wild boar and badgers feast on these greens nightly. I envy them.

In short order, with some encouragement from Ezio, Jolie is nosing around a poplar, then digging doggedly (sorry, I couldn’t help it). As she nears her prize, snout drawn deep into the earth with laser precision due to the truffle’s unique perfume, Ezio quietly but firmly reminds her whose truffle she’s actually digging for. With a firmly distracting but affectionate admonishment to “leave it,” Jolie steps to the side with resignation, accepting a dog treat excavated from the depths of Ezio’s pocket. Ezio, meanwhile, pokes and prods with fingertips and a hand-held pick axe until the treasure is recovered intact.



Still on his knees, Ezio carefully places a moderately large white truffle onto a plaid handkerchief, and extends it toward us. One whiff of the lumpy, greyish-brown prize is enough to tell what all the fuss is about. It’s swoon-worthy, cloyingly rich and redolent with the scent of the earth. Jolie, to our delight, repeats her success half a dozen more times, and after 90 minutes, Ezio’s pockets are empty of dog treats and full of black and white truffles.

After a short climb upward, we enjoy espresso in the courtyard of Ezio’s b+b, satisfied, but equally anxious to move on to Alba, where we’ll visit Tartufi Morra, a shop that specializes in all things truffles.

After compulsory photo-taking, Ezio invites us to return for an overnight stay, adding with a wry smile and a wink, “we offer truffles every morning at breakfast with your eggs.”  We’ll be back.

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An embarrassment of riches.

Before each of my Morso Soggiorno tours, I travel to Italy to take a “dry run” of my own trip. Makes sense, right? I research my trips intensively, write long emails and anxiously await replies, read reviews, get references from trusted sources. I make phone calls at all hours of the day and night in Italian so broken it could make your ears bleed. But none of that considerable effort stands in for a little face time. My in-person meetings are beyond fruitful and serve a couple of purposes, aside from getting me to Italy, which, it goes without saying, is an amazing benefit.

IMG_1410 Villa Beccaris

Nailing down all important and elusive commitments from my Italian colleagues is a challenge, especially when I’m reserving limited and exclusive accommodations and events. It’s even more difficult when I’m trying to convince an artisan or craft business to open its doors to my groups. Imagine asking the fine gentleman below “Can you please demonstrate your 200 year-old, ultra-secret ricotta-making technique for my group and me?” Even the most scrupulous and hardworking farmers, vendors, cheese makers, vintners and restauranteurs are way too comfortable with open-ended plans that they are sure can be confirmed domani (tomorrow). Me, not so much. I’m all about signing on the dotted line, and inking my name on a specific date on a calendar that preferably remains in their direct line of sight.

sicilian cheesemaker

More importantly, when I meet my virtual colleagues in person, there’s an excitement generated; a generosity and willingness to share intimate, special experiences, which, let’s face it, is what my trips are all about. Discovering undiscovered Italy. One unique, breath-taking experience at a time.

Take my recent meeting with Anna Abbona of Marchesi di Barolo. A more gracious (and beautiful!) hostess you may never find. But I knew this already, having heard Jen and Josh Ziskin, chef/owners of Ristorante La Morra in Brookline, Massachusetts, sing her praises effusively. After a lovely impromptu tour, where we’d personally met the chef, settled on the menu for a four-course dinner, and added white truffles to two of those courses (we’re in Alba in October and we’re not supposed to eat white truffles?) Signora Abbona offered tastings of the wine flights that would accompany our meal. It’s not quite 11 o’clock in the morning, yet I almost say yes.


Barolo country Marchesi di Barolo

Meeting my colleague, Sharon, in the press office at Slow Food headquarters in Bra was no exception. Sharon is a wealth of information, and generously offered up a private wine tasting at the Enoteca at Salone del Gusto or a visit to the Presidium arborio rice fields while we got to know each other over a delicious lunch at Osteria del Boccondivino in the courtyard outside the Slow Food offices.

Slow Food HQ

The folks who run the La Banca del Vino (the Wine Bank) at the University of Gastronomic Studies are ready to pop open a couple of the thousands of bottles of wines they hold in their cellars in Pollenzo for Morso Tours. “Take a walk through the cellar, prego, Signora,vai, vai,” the wine experts exhort us, directing us to the back corner of an immense tasting room. A heavy wooden door creaks open at our coaxing, revealing vaulted stone ceilings and brick walls in which crates of wines are stacked waist high as far as the eye can see. Slow wines from every region in Italy. I turn, wide-eyed, toward my hostess, and she nods knowingly. Once I’ve seen this, how can I pass up a private tour and tasting?

Wine Bank good stuff Wine Bank vault

It goes on and on. Keep an eye out for all of my updates — some for the October trip, and some for future trips. Expect my top ten on Turin, Alba and Barolo country, Salone, and restaurants in Turin in upcoming posts.

Follow me on Twitter @tuttomorso and Instagram @tuttomorso to learn all the good bits in real time. The Salone del Gusto/Torino/Alba trip is October 22 – 29, 2014, there is limited space available. You can learn more about it here.




Italy surprises me. Again.

I’ve been hawking my upcoming tour to Salone del Gusto in October pretty much nonstop. I think it’s a great trip, having attended Salone del Gusto in 2012 (you can see my blogs about it here and here.) But it occurs to me, my foodie bias is showing. I’ve been so focused on all the greatness that is Salone — the wines, the artisan and craft foods, the star-chef dinners, the cooking classes, the workshops – did I mention the wines? — that I almost broke my own first rule of the Morso travel experiences I curate: discover undiscovered Italy. Boy, was I ever reminded of the importance of my own mission on my recent “test run” to Turin and Alba in mid-July.

So, before I begin to wax effusive about Turin, a little background. Over the years, I’ve visited or passed through Turin a few times, two of them very memorable. On my first visit, in 1990, my husband, Jonathan, and I capped off a one-month second honeymoon with a one-night stay in Turin. It almost led to divorce. Why? Where do I start?

First, it was Ferragosto, the time of year in Italy when any sane person, Italian or otherwise, avoids the cities and escapes to their vacation home for a month or more. Restaurants are “chiuso per ferie,” closed for holiday, as are small businesses. The sidewalks are rolled up. The streets, deserted. I was in Rome once during Ferie, and the only other living creatures for miles around were the cats at the Torre Argentina.

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No one goes to an industrial city like Turin in August. No one, that is, except the Rolling Stones. And, apparently, us. My husband, now an aging rocker, then an ardent one, just had to see the Stones on their European tour. I was not happy. The notion of spending the last night of my second honeymoon with Mick, Keith, and 70,000 of their bff’s did not rock my world. But love is about compromise.

So, we booked a hotel, in those pre-internet days, by fax. Got the confirmation the next day, at least I hoped it was the confirmation, the quality was so bad. I tucked it in among our traveling papers, never giving it a second thought as we wended our way from Barcelona through the South of France and across the Ligurian Coast by car, using the late and lamented Gourmet magazine as our travel guide. We saw great sights and ate some of the best meals of our lives. Finally, four weeks later, to Turin we went in the heat of an Italian summer.

Turin was bleak; hot and desolate. The first harbinger of bad things to come: our hotel was closed for renovations. Damn that hard-to-read fax. After finally finding a guest house, we ended up eating at the only place open, a small bottega that had menus with pictures of food on them, and descriptions in four languages. Never a good sign.

After a supremely unsatisfying meal and less satisfying espresso, we navigated our way, sans GPS, to the only stadium on our map. Covered in graffiti, boarded up and looking more like a relic from a ghost town in a post-apocalypse film than the venue for a world-class concert, we were obviously in the wrong place. A few questions later, we were directed to Stadio delle Alpi, Turin’s new stadium. Glad to put the intrigue behind us, we parked, grabbed our backpacks and walked about 2 miles to the gates, only to be searched and relieved of just about everything we owned by the Carabinieri. Buggers.

Thoroughly pissed off, I sat fuming through the whole show while Jonathan reveled in the greatness that is the Glimmer Twins. It wasn’t over soon enough for me.


Fortunately, my second memorable experience was Salone in 2012. Wanting to spend every moment possible at the show, I barely explored the city, in retrospect, a serious mistake. In my last 48 hours in Turin, when I finally had overdosed on every artisan product under the sun, I rushed from one fabulous neighborhood to another, trying to take it all in. I more than made up for it during this trip.

Turin is a beautiful, cosmopolitan, eminently walkable city, with neighborhoods that vary from baroque to modern to industrial to medieval. Jonathan thinks it feels a lot like Madrid (high praise indeed).


Square TorinoAs the birthplace of Italian Unification, there is plenty of history at your fingertips, including Italy’s first parliamentary chambers, and the birthplace of the first King, Vittorio Emanuele II. Museums abound on assorted subjects including Eqyptology, National Cinema, and of course, Italy’s legendary automobiles.

Cinema Torino

For foodies, Turin boasts the largest open air market in Italy, Porta Palazzo, and the Balon, an amazing caffé culture whose heritage is preserved at Caffé Bicerin and Caffé Florio. Gelato? How about Grom?  Chocolate? The inimitable Guido Gobino awaits.

Caffee B+W Farmer's Market 2 Latte Burro Uova Sign

Needless to say, the Torinese take their food seriously. And how could they not? The Slow Food movement was born of the Torinese culture, and thrives there as a living, breathing part of every day life.

How whet is your appetite? If you’re thinking about Fall travel, think Turin. Salone del Gusto. And the amazing wines of vineyards surrounding Alba. Did I mention October is white truffle month?

Join us!

Carpe Barolo!

While I was more than occupied at Salone del Gusto 2012 tasting aged balsamic vinegars, olive oils, chocolates, coffee, cheese, salume, carne crudo and so much more, my wine-loving spouse sampled the wines. And let me just say, there were a lot of them.

In anticipation of the release of the Slow Food Taste Workshops catalog for 2014, I give you his annotated recollections.

If you’re thinking of joining us on our trip to Turin, Salone del Gusto and Piedmont’s wine country this year, remember: June 9 is the date to begin reserving your own Taste Workshop favorites.

The sublime wine programs of Salone del Gusto.

I could go on and on about how spectacular the Taste Workshops are at Slow Foods’ Salone del Gusto food show. But perhaps sharing just a few of the inspired offering from the 2012 Program will whet your palate. Here you go:

Great Reserve Barolos for Aging; Reds from the Loire Valley; The unrivaled cuvées of Krug Champagne; Italy’s young women winemakers; the rise of Southern New Zealand Pinot Noir; the discreet charms of biodynamics.

Still thirsty? Borgogno Barolo vertical tasting (chronicled in a past post here); the exceptional vintages of Charles Heidsieck Champagne; Brunello di Montalciono Poggio al Vento vertical tasting (read the post here).

Borgogno tasting

The wines from the Southern Rhone: Gigondas and Chateauneuf-du-Pape; the sparkling wines of Italy and France; a new profile of Brunello di Montalcino; wines from Spain, Portugal, Greece, the Balkans and Georgia.

A unique tasting of Slow Wine producers, with over 600 labels represented. Additional Taste Workshops featured rums, cognacs, whiskeys, craft beers and much more, all complemented by delicious artisan foods.

These generous tastings are presented by international experts and visiting vintners, many scions of centuries’ old wine dynasties, as well as young rising stars. Together, they offer a unique glimpse into a world few of us have access to.

But access it you will if you join me this fall for a tour of Salone del Gusto, Turin and the wine rich Piemonte region. You can learn morehere.

In vino veritas indeed.

Poggio Al Vento lineup

New deets! Salone del Gusto 2014.

Big news from Italy! The official countdown to Salone del Gusto 2014 starts on June 9. That’s when the long-awaited Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre Slow Food itinerary of workshops, tastings, and programs will be posted online. We’ll want to reserve immediately, to ensure our place at the most sought-after events and workshops.

If you’ve been thinking about joining us, it’s decision time. If you’ve already signed on (lucky you!), time pull up a chair, pour a glass of your favorite wine, buff up your reading glasses, and settle in to imagine yourself at one of hundreds of perfectly curated programs designed to satisfy your every craving for wine, cheese, chocolate, olive oil, coffee, and so much more. Once your choices are made, we’ll sign you up.

Over the winter, I’ve been tweaking the trip itinerary, and am pleased to post the updated details here. By design, our experience will be an intimate, immersive one — I’ve booked only ten rooms, and five are already sold. If you’re on the fence, the time is now to call with questions.

So, take a look, and I hope to hear from you. It promises to be an epic trip.

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Join me! Turin + Salone del Gusto, October 2014

It’s finally here! The itinerary for Morso Soggiorno’s much anticipated trip to Salone del Gusto 2014, the incredible city of Turin, and Le Langhe in Piedmont.

You can click on each image to make the page larger for easy reading.

Hope you can join me.

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Questions? Email me.

Morso Soggiorno’s annotated year in review: 2013

2013. Morso Soggiorno’s inaugural year.

We visited Abruzzo, Lazio, Umbria, Le Marche, Sicily, Basilicata and Puglia. We ate, we drank, we laughed. We strolled, foraged, hiked, shopped, rolled pasta, hunted truffles, pressed olive oil, picked grapes, cooked with a duchess, picked purple potatoes with a farmer in a fog shrouded field, made more cultural faux pas and grammar mistakes than even Hillary Clinton as Secretary of State could save us from, and still, we were welcomed warmly, with the love, care and attention usually offered only to family.

The only thing we didn’t conquer was the Italian postal service, who still has all the goodies we shipped home. Hope you’re enjoying them, guys.

Here are a bunch of my impressions, visual and verbal, in no certain order, of the first year living my dream. Intrigued? Hope you can join us next year. Keep an eye out for our 2014 itinerary, including Turin, Sicily and Abruzzo, coming in early January.

Bombed out Baroque palazzi and churches on just about every corner in Palermo, Sicily, each more hauntingly beautiful and staggeringly dramatic than the next.

bombed out baroque in palermo

For the Sunday afternoon passegiata in Scanno, the older women do their best to bring the guidebooks to life by dressing in the traditional style: long full skirts, black sweaters and heads covered in a dark fazzoletti. Then, they scowl at us when we take pictures. Huh?

costume sundays in scannoWe walked around a remote farm in the mountains of Le Marche, cameras in hand, while we waited for the sheep’s milk to heat in a giant copper pot, first to make the pecorino, and then to make the ricotta. Behind the barn, we found doves in cages, bees in hives and baby chicks hiding under a bush with their mother.

dovesAn enchanting day spent with Nicoletta Polo Lanza at Palazzo Butera in Palermo, Sicily. We cooked, learned more than a bit of the history of her husband’s family, and lived for a little while like the royalty of the Kingdom of Naples and Sicily.

ducal splendorIn the chill fields beneath the medieval hilltop village of Santo Stefano di Sessanio in Abruzzo, three farmers compared notes. Two Italian, one American, six hands, many seeds and a meeting of the minds over farming grains in harsh conditions. Like Massachusetts. And the mountains of Abruzzo.

Farmers taking crops

Everywhere in Italy, you see them. Great cars. Little cars, big cars, fast cars, slow cars, old cars, new cars. Horns blasting, engines revving, ignoring signals, speed limits, and every parking regulation ever invented. But always doing it with style.

funky fabulous cars

In an old barn in Ofena, Abruzzo, we’re treated to a demonstration of the only “modern” machine available in the region that can separate the lentils from their unwelcome casings. Part winnower, part thresher, very high maintenance but lovingly cosseted, it processes every Slow Food Presidia lentil for miles around.

lentil harvester

Paparazza, Italian style. They start ‘em young. And cute.


The chef of Sapori di Campagna, Ofena, Italy. A woman of many talents, Gabriela taught us to how to make six kinds of pasta, among other regional specialities, then she prepared us a delectable six course dinner. But by far, the best thing Gabriela shared was her 2013 calendar, hanging in a place of honor and inspiration on the back of her kitchen door. Does it feature picturesque photos of the region, you ask? Speciality foods? No. Just beautiful, and scantily clad, Italian soccer stars in all their glory.

pasta maker with calendar The salt flats in Trapani, Sicily. Don Quixote, eat your heart out. Sprinkle on a little salt. We’ve got plenty.

salt flats don quixote style

Whimsical, colorful Opera dei Pupi, the traveling marionette caravans rest in alleys in between performances, a homage to families who travelled from town to town performing, beginning in the 13th century.

sicilian puppet shows

The juxtaposition of the modern and the ancient, both in the service of a sustainable life.

sustainability, modern and age old

“Hello,” he said, a disembodied voice originating high above us. “Do you want to buy biscotti? I can come down, it’s just too cold to sit there all day.” Our answer was a resounding si! si!, yes! to the best chocolate biscotti, and incredible mostacciolo cookies, made with grape must and chocolate. My favorite part? Lifesize photos adorning the walls and doorways, all of his late wife, in her youth, dressed in the typical Scannese costume.the biscsotti man in scanno“Take a Dramamine if you get queasy on switchbacks or have a problem with heights,” I warned my intrepid traveling companions. The drive from Sulmona to Scanno is fraught with both, but the vistas are worth the effort. Like hanging on the edge of Heaven.

the road to scanno When I was 12, my parents took us to Spain. There, we watched a donkey walk in a circle, his movement turning a giant stone wheel that crushed olives for olive oil. It was a sensory delight, but the smell was what I most vividly remember. Fresh cut hay, green grass, both deep, rich, and verdant. Modernization makes the process simpler, but I was transported to another time and place as the vivid green, freshly pressed oil poured from the press in Marsala, Sicily.

there is nothing like virgin olive oil

The men in Italy. Need I say more? When they meet, they kiss each other on the cheeks. Twice. They carry babies, push strollers, walk slowly with aging nonnas, and have been known to make an appreciative comment to a random woman passing by.  At this, the feminist in me shrugs her shoulders. Italian men are demonstrative, and they demonstrate their love for their families, and the fairer sex loudly and often.

three generations

These two women gave us a simple lesson in trickle down economics and caveat emptor. Let the buyer beware. We bought garlic, the lady on the left “neglected” to make us our change as she deposited our coins into a well worn leather coin purse. Later, we saw her take the same coins and trade them at another vendor for grapes, and cheese. And so it goes.

trickle down economics Pasta alla guitarra in a simple sauce of wild spinach foraged from the mountainside behind Il Vecchio Ristoro in Rocca Pia. Sweet, tender, deeply hued matte velvet green leaves, almost triangular in shape, have a slight mineral, earthy taste.

wild spinach pasta