Truffles are, weight for weight, one of the most expensive foods on the planet. Luckily, however, a little goes a long way and in the Marche
you can indulge in them without pawning the family silver.
Of some sixteen species of tartufi found in the Marche, only two are worth killing for - the tartufo bianco or white truffle (Tuber magnatum Pico) and the tartufo
nero pregiato or black truffle (Tuber melanosporum Vitt.).
The white is the finest - and the costliest; tartufi bianchi can cost well over £1,500 a kilo depending on quality and seasonal abundance. The black version comes at a more modest price. Both are a perfect antidote to the hard Marche winter as to buy them fresh you have to be here between October and the end of December for the bianchi and between December and March for the neri
In summer any fresh truffles to be found on restaurant menus will be the tartufo d'estate or summer truffle (Tuber aestivum Vitt.), a pale shadow of its noble sisters - if these are your only experience of truffles, you may wonder what all the fuss is about.
Italian truffle hunters dig up around 100 metric tonnes of truffles a year with the help of their '57 variety' dogs. In the Marches, Acqualagna and Sant'Angelo in Vado are the places to head for during the truffle season.
Although truffles are best eaten fresh within days of their discovery, there are plenty of products that try to preserve the experience. Best
value are the small bottles of olive oil flavoured with truffles. Other good buys are truffle butter and tubes of truffle paste. The whole truffles preserved in glass jars are expensive and have had
most of the stuffing knocked out of them in the process of conservation.
Perhaps the oddest product are the chocolate "truffles" flavoured with real black truffle - bizarre put surprisingly good (they actually come
from Norcia in neighbouring Umbria).
To be avoided, unless you have a very perverse palate, are the liqueurs with a lump of truffle bobbing about inside the bottle.