The rain rattled against the umbrella above my head. Sole the dog had sniffed something out with his trained nose. His front paws frantically flinging the forest soil behind him. Matteo, our hunter, held Sole to one side using his other hand to search the hole for the prize. Was this it? Were we about to discover our first reward on our truffle hunting mission in Umbria?
Our day at Ca'Solare truffle school, near the city of Città di Castello in North Umbria, had begun in the dining room of Elisa and Matteo Bartolini, our hosts.
Matteo introduces us to the art of truffle hunting
Through a short presentation, Matteo explained the different types of truffles to be found in the Umbria.
Matteo's enthusiasm for his trade was infectious as he described the various differences between black truffles and their more valuable relative, the white truffle.
Truffle hunting runs in Matteo's family. His father Carlo was a master of the art and passed on his experiences and expertise to Matteo who in turn was passing on his tips to us even though we were all complete amateurs.
With the rain easing slightly we braved the downpour and geared up by wrapping our shoes in blue plastic bags. It's hard to look cool when you have bright blue feet but at least we were amongst friends.
Meeting Sole and finding our truffles
Matteo took us to meet Sole, a half bracco pointer and half springer who greeted us with excitement. As soon as his kennel door was opened Sole energetically scurried around us. It was hard to tell if his hunting instinct had just kicked in or whether he was playing up for the photographs that everyone rushed to take.
With the signal to 'Go Go Go' Sole's tracking skills took over which led us down the path towards the nearby woods.
Due to the downpour Sole's skills were tested as we ducked through the low branches of the forest. We reached an open patch where the sound of rain against the umbrella filled the air. Sole stopped and we all held our breath in anticipation when he began to dig.
Matteo reached into the hole and withdrew a tiny lumpy object. For some reason I had in my head the image of a truffle as being larger, such as the size of a mushroom so it was with surprise that it was so small and yet it could still fetch a fee of a few hundred Euros.
Finding our first truffle was a sign. We had become truffle hunters and we were rewarded with a break in the rain. Sole's nose went into overdrive and within a few minutes we had discovered our second and third truffles and meant we headed back to the farmhouse with our heads held high.
Time for Lunch
Upon our return the classroom had been converted back to its traditional format as a dining room and we were treated to a five course lunch with the family in front of a roaring log fire.
Of course, truffles were on the menu and this was my first taste. Our first course consisted of three types of truffle on bruschetta. I'm not a food expert but they were all delicious and I got a taste for white truffle which just happens to be the more expensive.
Certificates all round, but where's mine?
As lunch was coming to an end and with holy wine and biscotti being served Elisa announced that we had all passed the school and each of us were to be presented with a certificate by Matteo.
One by one we all stood up and received our certificate to applause and it seemed I was to be the last one up... but wait everyone had theirs and the ceremony was over and I sat looking forlorn at the end of the table.
I was a hardcore truffle hunter and had been out in the pouring rain in search of our lunch. Elisa caught my eye and realised I had been missed so as an extra reward I was to receive my certificate, not from Matteo but from the master himself, his father Carlo. I felt honoured.
We all had a laugh and I think that summed up our day. We arrived in Matteo and Elisa's house as strangers yet the few hours we spent on the hunt and over lunch had made us feel part of the family and credit is due to the couple for being wonderful hosts.
As we said our goodbyes I gazed down at the certificate, Paul Corbett - Truffle Hunter, now that would make an interesting addition to my CV.
Have you been Truffle Hunting? Where did you go? Have you met Matteo and Elisa?
Our truffle hunting experience was provided by Agriturismo Ca'Solare and the Umbria Region Tourism Board but as always the views are my own.